Plans for art museum, academy generate controversy in New Salem

  • This private residence at 37 South Main St. in New Salem is being renovated into an art museum and academy. The town’s Planning Board is reviewing the project, which has drawn concerns from some residents. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The first floor central hall at 37 South Main St. in New Salem, which is being converted into an art museum and academy by owners Vincent and Laura Barletta. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The third floor at 37 South Main St. in New Salem will house an art studio, with an artist-in-residence apartment off to the right. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • This faux ceiling will be removed after renovations to reveal a two-story room at 37 South Main St. in New Salem. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The front staircase was preserved at 37 South Main St. in New Salem, which is being converted into an art museum and academy. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The existing gardens will feature new landscaping at 37 South Main St. in New Salem, which is being renovated into an art museum and academy. The town’s Planning Board is reviewing the project, which has drawn concerns from some residents. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 8/24/2020 6:28:27 PM

NEW SALEM — Plans to convert a private residence into an art museum and academy have been met with opposition from people who fear private commercial events at the property could generate parking issues and adversely affect the historic district’s character.

Husband and wife Vincent and Laura Barletta bought 37 South Main St. from Vincent’s mother about 18 months ago with hopes of displaying their art collection for public enjoyment. But there has been some pushback from residents who worry about possible noise, alcohol use and environmental impacts potentially stemming from unrestricted and open-ended use of the facility for corporate and business functions.

Laura Barletta, who lives with her husband in Weston, said the plan is to host private events to help offset the cost of operating the New Salem Museum and Academy of Fine Art. The Barlettas need a special permit from the New Salem Planning Board, which met last week to begin deliberations on the matter. Laura Barletta said members wanted a site visit, which she expects to take place in the next couple of weeks. Board Clerk David Cramer said the issue’s complexity will require multiple meetings.

“We didn’t anticipate this. We’re trying to not take this personally. (The townspeople) don’t know us,” Laura Barletta said. “The town is very scared and what they’re imagining is huge functions with a band in the backyard that plays well past dark.”

Some residents have written letters to the board to voice their concerns, saying they welcome an art museum and gallery but object to the idea of large private functions. One letter was signed by 64 residents.

“We do not agree with the applicant’s assessment that these large events would not create traffic, parking and noise problems, or would not be detrimental to the general welfare and safety of the town,” that letter states. “The town and its residents would gain no benefit from these proposed functions, and they would also have a negative impact to the center of our town, the quality of life of the abutters and to other town residents.

“We feel a special affinity to the unique qualities of small-town life that New Salem has to offer, and is an essential reason why many of us live here and have chosen to stay for decades,” the letter continues. “Creating an event destination for hundreds of out-of-town participants for an unspecified number of times a year, in the very heart of our community on the Town Common, fundamentally and adversely changes the nature of our community, is highly problematic and causes great concern.”

A separate letter proposes guidelines — each endorsed by a varying number of signers — to be required for a special permit to be obtained from the Planning Board. Sixty-two residents recommend prohibiting private commercial events while eight endorse restricting these events to indoors only, with a limit of 58 attendees and staff members (the maximum building capacity). Sixteen residents endorse allowing indoor and outdoor commercial events, but limiting attendance to 58 indoor and 125 outside and permitting no more than four functions per year.

This letter also suggests the Barlettas arrange for additional off-street space to accommodate all overflow parking as needed, and that all events and activities at the facility be limited to between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m., and no deliveries be allowed before 8 a.m.

Laura Barletta said she and her husband have offered to increase the parking lot’s size so vehicles won’t have to park on the roadside. She said her dream is to encourage more artists to move to the area.

She explained she and her husband have been collecting art for 13 years, ever since they visited New York City for an anniversary and purchased an original Michael Klein painting they saw and fell in love with.

“My jaw dropped,” Laura Barletta said. “We brought it home and it has brought us so much joy.”

Laura Barletta said she and her husband collect contemporary realism artwork, which she explained is a modern North American movement by artists who paint in the style of brilliant European painters. She said she has original works by Andrew Wyeth and John Singer Sargent she would like to display at 37 South Main St.

She said there is much work to be done to the three-floor building and the interior is almost entirely gutted. More information is available at

Laura Barletta explained the building was once a dormitory of New Salem Academy, which Vincent Barletta’s grandmother attended as a student. Vincent Barletta’s father, who shared the same name as his son, purchased the building for sentimental reasons once the school closed and turned it into a single-family dwelling that was used infrequently. Laura Barletta said her mother-in-law, Patricia Barletta, lives in Connecticut and put the house on the market a few years ago because she was visiting it less and less frequently.

Reach Domenic Poli at: or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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