Web Analytics

Lost in North Adams

Driving up the Taconic from JFK to North Adams *with* a fully functioning phone.

Feeling lost? Maybe this will help...

On Saturday, I dropped my already-shattered phone in North Adams, MA. The top half of the screen went dark, I couldn’t unlock it, and facial recognition stopped working. (Luckily, my laptop could still use it as a hotspot, but more on that later.)

Why was I in North Adams, you ask? For the past several months, I’ve been cooking up a symposium and a North Adams edition of (A)Part with Mass MoCA’s incredible Executive Director Kristy Edmunds. Kristy and I are deeply aligned around the idea of the arts as an economic engine, and she is the only person I’ve ever truly considered a mentor. Her previous projects and leadership roles all led to her post at Mass MoCA. So when she commissioned Gertie to do a book with Mass MoCA using the model we’ve developed in Chicago, we set out to answer the question: “How do you measure the economic impact of an art-focused institution on a city?” Using the museum as an entry point, we want folks — including visitors from out of town— to understand the context around North Adams as a city, not just as a neighborhood surrounding a museum. Even among people who live in North Adams, there is a sense of disconnectedness, and when I started working on this project, I wondered: How could people living in such close proximity to one another have such different views of what was happening in the same place?

If created intentionally and relationally, a map can show overlaps, similarities, and patterns. Even if someone has looked at a map of the same place for their entire life, there are likely patterns they have not yet discovered or recognized. In order to create our map of North Adams, we had a series of conversations with the business owners, artists, and civic leaders who created the fabric of the city. We realized that everyone was connected, but this connectedness isn’t yet part of the story the city tells about itself. The (A)Part book is the product of those conversations, to give visitors context for this place, and to give locals a new perspective — a birds-eye view — of their hometown.

With the symposium, we're inviting people from all over the country who are similarly invested in the creative economy — and understand the importance of small businesses in the fabric of economic revitalization — to speak about potential opportunities for investment in North Adams’ future.

A productive conversation should be a fact-finding mission. It’s a way of getting enough context to inhabit someone else’s reality, and share enough to help others locate themselves in our realities.

In order to truly understand a place, both context and conversation are necessary: without understanding the history of the people in the (A)Part book, or how they relate to one another, these opportunities for investment wouldn’t be as obvious or actionable.

Grabbing coffee at Tourists and marveling at my inbox count (s/o Cortlyn Kelly).When it came time to drive to the Albany airport without a working phone, I prepared as much as I could. I Google-mapped the route and screenshotted a step-by-step list of directions. I grabbed a coffee at my favorite spot, Tourists, hotspotted my laptop, and hit the road. Yes I had a map, and yes, I was doing my best to follow the route markers on the upstate New York backroads, but my lack of understanding of the larger context of where I was left me totally lost and frankly kinda scared that I’d end up on the side of the road in the middle of the night in a strange area that I didn’t know. As I saw firsthand on the drive to the airport, it’s really hard to think about the view from a plane when you’re stuck at the intersection of Second Ave and Bertha in Albany, wondering which wrong turn you’d taken. When we’re “in it,” feeling utterly lost, fear takes away our ability to have perspective and to seek context. But as we continue our work creating an interactive map of Chicago, and begin to branch out to other places like North Adams, it’s the conversations with our communities that enable us to understand the details on the ground and to have the context to combat the fear that we might face in unknown territory.

xx Abby

(inter)mezzo is back!