Victoria Beaupre tells how her experience with the Fall Festival of Shakespeare changed her personally.
LENOX, Mass. — State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli remembers when Lenox residents couldn't wait for the Tanglewood crowd to finally go home at the end of summer.
That was back when General Electric in Pittsfield employed 12,000 to 13,000 and the cultural attractions were more a matter of pride than the economy.
"Then General Electric and the papers mills started to cut back and go away," he said Thursday morning at Shakespeare & Company's Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre. "We transformed ourselves, we pulled in this creative economy, we recognized it could become an economic engine ...
"It is the No. 1 industry in Berkshire County. We need to continue to feed the beast, we need to continue to grow that industry."
That's what makes the gift Congressman Richard Neal came bearing on Thursday significant, he said: some $348,000 in National Endowment for the Arts funding.
"I've never seen an industry anywhere in Massachusetts in my 16 years that makes a dollar worth $10," Pignatelli said. "Would you make that investment today? ... That's what the cultural economy does."
The celebration of that announcement brought out cultural leaders from venues across the county to hear from the region's U.S. representative and Massachusetts Cultural Council Executive Director Anita Walker.
Walker thanked the region's federal and state lawmakers for understanding and supporting the arts and the organizations that provide access to the arts locally. The NEA, thought to be facing extinction from a hostile administration, instead got a $3 million bump from Congress; the Massachusetts Cultural Council could be looking at a $2 million hike from an amendment authored by Sen. Adams Hinds of Pittsfield.
This round of NEA funding will go toward the Shakespeare & Company, Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood, the North Adams Public Schools (with Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art), the City of Pittsfield, Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the New England Foundation for the Arts.
Neal, representing the 1st Massachusetts, touted the region's high-quality artistic works, saying, "you've really established a national and international reputation."
"Because of the extraordinary things you do here, you've really established a national and international reputation," said Neal. "The Massachusetts Cultural Council, your constant advocacy and your constant work, with the almost $2,341,000 for the state Council on the Arts, that's a great testament to the advocacy you do every day."
Shakespeare's Managing Director Adam Davis said tourism in Berkshire County is a $462 million industry.
"We are a huge part of that, we are part of that economic engine," he said. "Four thousand jobs are created just because of what we do."
Shakespeare & Company will receive $20,000 to continue its Fall Festival of Shakespeare, an educational program that brings the Bard's works to the 10 local high schools and culminates in performances at the company's theater on Kemble Street in Lenox.
Veronica Beaupre, now patron services manager for the company, recalled how she had gone through the program in 2011. Shy, unsure, she didn't know how to express herself without a grade to achieve or direction from others.
"I realized I had absolutely no idea who I was a person ... luckily for me the education program handed you to the tools to fix that problem ... the complete works of Shakespeare," she said.
"When you work with Shakespeare's text you don't think of the characters as fictional people, they're complicated, dysfunctional, they've got relationships and ambitions, and perhaps most importantly, they feel everything at 100 percent of the feeling ... you're never just slightly angry, you're ready to murder someone."
Working with Shakespeare's characters allowed her to feel every emotion, and to see how they looked on others. The company's educational programs provide a safe environment for youth to reach a level of emotional intelligence that their elders may not think them capable, she said.
"I felt love and loss and anger and revenge in a way we really don't think high school students are capable of," Beaupre said.
"It taught me to be bold and speak for what I want. .. It made be a better person, a better friend, and a better employee."
Walker also referred to the company's Shakespeare in the Courts, a collaboration with the Berkshire Juvenile Court System, that also provides an outlet for that emotional intelligence learning.
"These are some of things that young people don't know what it feels like ... and when they feel it, their actions lead to consequences they could not have predicted," she said. "But Shakespeare helps those young people predict those consequences and perhaps prevent them in their real life."
Walker also pointed out renowned pianist Emmanual Ax, who works with young musicians through Berkshire Children and Families. These types of programs abound not only in the Berkshires but across the state, she said.
"The Creative Youth Development Program was born and raised in Massachusetts more than 25 years ago," Walker said. "It has literally transformed the lives of thousands of vulnerable teenagers here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts ... transformed if not saved the lives of these vulnerable young people."
Neal said he reads many newspapers to get different perspectives and is always heartened to find review and articles about local cultural venues when he turns to the arts sections.
"You quickly come to the conclusion that helps to establish our reputation in a civilized society and I would also use the moment to say it also promotes the civil tone of how we should speak to each other in America," he said. "And use that opportunity to educate ourselves about listening as well as talking."
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