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Creative Summit set for Friday, Saturday

‘We have to make ... reasons for people to love where they live’

TURNERS FALLS — It may seem counter-intuitive to try to attract people to a village with a one-way bridge and a sign that boasts, “Easy to live, hard to leave.”

But for the fourth annual “Franklin County Creative Economy Summit” this weekend, Turners Falls will show people how the arts can help a community do well even when it is struggling by being cut off by several years of bridge repairs.

The two-day conference, which will draw about 200 people to the village from around the Pioneer Valley and beyond, will kick off with a Friday morning Chamber of Commerce breakfast at Hallmark Institute of Technology featuring the founding director of the 11-year-old Rockingham Arts and Museum Project in Bellows Falls, Vt. The session will be followed by a plenary session with a state senator, a banker, an artist and a town manager discussing the triumphs and challenges of their work in enriching the community’s cultural life.

All Friday sessions — focusing on topics including community cultural work in Turners Falls, Shelburne Falls, Bellows Falls and Pittsfield —will be at the Turners Falls Industrial Park site, with Saturday’s events moving to a variety of locations in downtown Turners Falls.

“We’re trying to remind people why it’s so important to have cultural events in a community, for the draw, the vitality, the excitement it provides in any community, said Becky George, who helps organize the event for the Fostering Art and Culture Project.

In an area dotted with vacant or under-used mill buildings and with a large concentration of people working in the visual arts, music, theater, writing and related fields, George said, “We have to make activity, things for people to do, and reasons for people to love where they live.

The value to the economy comes when people are drawn to the area for those activities and decide it’s an appealing place to move, or to return and visit again and again, telling their friends and spending money to help to build the economy.

Robert McBride, the founding director of the Vermont arts project who will speak at the opening session, says, “It really comes down to the passion of people interested in the community ... They can bring energy to each other and often then attract other people to want to be there because of that energy “

Beginning in 1993, the Rockingham project he started worked to bring events like a Yellow Barn Music Festival performance and a downtown mural to Bellows Falls, the village, including Yellow Barn downtown, and a mural project on the side of a building “to start to affect the downtown or things happening there, and people start saying, ‘Oh, something’s going on in Bellows Falls.’”

One of the key “somethings” was working with Vermont’s housing agency to turn a derelict building into affordable apartments/work studios for artists, to help begin turning around the former mill village on the Connecticut River.

“It’s a real organic process,” McBride says. “It’s kind of glacial. Something starts to happen, and when it really happens, things start to shift.”

Conference workshops, which on Saturday will be held at the Colle Opera House, the Shea Theater, Northeast Foundation for Children’s classroom building, the Turners Falls Discovery Center, the Montague Senior Center and the town hall, will discuss local cultural council grants, UMass Arts Extension Service, financial planning and using The Recorder and social media to promote cultural activities.

Organizers of a New England Museum of Art Craft and Design for Franklin County will also have their organizing efforts displayed at Friday’s lunch.

Among the presenters will be Old Deerfield Productions Artistic Director Linda McInerney talking about her work in creative collaborations and singer Erica Wheeler on fostering “a sense of place” through cultural activities.

“If you have an emotional connection to the land as something that can teach you about yourself and your life, then it’s more personal and you’re much more apt to treasure that place,” says Wheeler, who will discuss with participants the role of arts in their communities and the “cultural vitality” it adds to the community.

George says the summit is aimed at “energizing the relationships” between artists, businesses and municipal leaders” to invigorate the cultural life of communities and help build people collaborations.

People can register online for the conference or show up between 8 and 9 a.m. either day to register, at Hallmark’s classroom education on Industrial Drive and Saturday at the Shea Theater.

The Fostering Art and Culture Project, which in the past has held its creative economy summits in Greenfield and Shelburne Falls, is a project of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the event with Franklin County Community Development Corp., Greenfield Community College, Turners Falls River Culture, Shelburne Falls Business Association, Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board and other organizations.

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