Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Cool Cultural Scene in the Northern Berkshires: 7+ Artsy Reasons To Go



Stone Hill, The Clark, Williamstown
(©Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute)
By Jacquelin Carnegie – (Pittsfield, MA)
Culture lovers already flock to the Southern Berkshires in Massachusetts for concerts at Tanglewood in Lenox and dance performances at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket. But venturing a few towns north--to Pittsfield and Williamstown--opens up another world of artsy possibilities. Even after summer is over, the cultural activities continue.
Taking the Pits Out of Pittsfield
Back in 1998, First Lady Hillary Clinton came to town on a Save America’s Treasures tour and gave a shot-in-the-arm to blighted Pittsfield. The town’s subsequent revitalization has been tied to the arts--and what an impressive transformation it is. Architecturally, Pittsfield is not a charming New England town like Lenox or Stockbridge, but it makes up for that with all its’ cultural offerings.

3rd Thursdays (photo: Karl Volkman)
1) Taking It To The Streets
Third Thursdays
Downtown Pittsfield, MA (May-Oct, 5pm-8pm; Free)
Once a month, a big street fair jazzes up Pittsfield’s main drag in the Upstreet Cultural District. There are bands playing, a variety of food stalls, and tons of entertaining activities for young and old. In addition to what’s going on in the street, shops, art studios, wine bars, and cafés stay open late. It’s also a great opportunity to chat with the friendly locals.
Karen Andrews Asian Fusion
Downtown Pittsfield, MA (Year round, 5pm-8pm; Free)
Third Thursdays runs May through October, but the First Fridays ArtsWalk takes place all year long. Who knew there were some 50 artist studios in downtown Pittsfield? On First Fridays, there’s art on display not only in the galleries and studios but in all sorts of places: restaurants, bagel shops, the Berkshire Medical Center, The Lichtenstein Center for the Arts, and loads of other off-beat spots.
2) The Write Stuff
Arrowhead

Melville’s writing desk 
(photo: Pablo Sanchez)
780 Holmes Rd., Pittsfield, MA; Tel: 413/442-1793; www.mobydick.org
Open: daily May-Oct, 9:30am-5pm. Tours available off-season by appointment; Fee.
Here’s something else you might not have known--Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick, and several other works, while living here from 1850 to 1863. Melville’s former home, restored by the Berkshire Historical Society, is now a National Historic Landmark and open to visitors.
3) It’s Showtime!
Barrington Stage Company
30 Union St., Pittsfield, MA, Tel:
 413/236-8888; barringtonstageco.org
Tickets: $15-$62

Debra Jo Rupp, Dr. Ruth 
 ©Barrington Stage
Founded in 1995, the not-for-profit company, housed in a 1912 vaudeville theatre, produces award-winning plays and musicals, and finds innovative ways to attract new audiences and introduce young people to theatre. The new productions at Barrington Stage are so terrific they often transfer to Broadway (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Freud’s Last Session) – but you can see them first, right here!
The Colonial Theater 
111 South St., Pittsfield, MA; Tel: 413/997-4444; www.thecolonialtheatre.org


The Colonial Theater
Tickets: $15-$100
The Colonial, designed in 1903 by noted architect J.B. McElfatrick, was a popular Vaudeville theater. After years of neglect, it’s been beautifully restored to its Gilded Age grandeur and now provides a stunning venue for top-name stars for concerts, comedies, musicals, and family entertainment all year long.
4) A Museum With More
Berkshire Museum
39 South St., 
Pittsfield, MA; Tel: 413/443-7171; www.berkshiremuseum.org
Open: Mon-Sat, 10am-5pm; Sun,
12pm-5pm. Fee
Opened in 1903 by Zenas Crane as an art and natural history museum, the Berkshire Museum’s collection includes everything from fine art to fossils, an aquarium to ancient artifacts, and objects from every continent. In addition to nifty special exhibits, the museum shows creative films and documentaries and is home to the Berkshire Actors Theater in the summer. 
5) A Fistful of Festivals
February: 10X10 On North: a contemporary arts festival on North Street. August: WordXWord Festival: the power of words: written, spoken, and sung. Pittsfield Ethnic Fair: cultural celebrations from Colombian to Caribbean. October: Pittsfield CityJazz Festival: annual jazz fest. Made in the Berkshires Festival: theatre, film, dance, music, etc. by locals.
Dining Options: There’s a huge selection of all kinds of restaurants, cafés and wine bars on North Street in the Upstreet Cultural District.
Spend the Night: Crowne Plaza

Williamstown, MA 
(photo: Daderot)
Getting There: Drive or from New York (Port Authority Bus Terminal) take a Peter Pan bus to Pittsfield. About four hours (but worth it!)
A Wonderful Weekend in Williamstown
About a half-hour from Pittsfield, this quaint little town, home to Williams College founded in 1793, has some terrific cultural institutions you won’t want to miss. 
6) Must-See Art Collections
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute
225 South St., Williamstown, MA; Tel: 413/458-2303; clarkart.edu
Open: Tues-Sun,
10am–5pm; daily in the summer. Fee 

Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute
(photo: Betty Sartori)
Sterling Clark, heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune, moved to Paris in 1910 and, along with his wife Francine, began acquiring an extraordinary collection of Impressionist and Old Master paintings. These masterpieces form the core of the Institute’s permanent collection. Opened in 1955, as both a museum and research center, The Clark’s original neoclassical building is now surrounded by modern additions by internationally-renown architect Tadao Ando. In addition to the artwork and special exhibits, other offerings include: live music performances, talks, and lectures. There are also walking trails on The Clark’s 140 acres of beautifully-landscaped forests and fields. (Plus a great gift shop!)

Eyes by Louise Bourgeois
 (©WCMA, photo: Arthur Evans)
Williams College Museum of Art
Rt. 2, 15 Lawrence Hall Dr., Williamstown, MA; Tel: 413/597-2429;
Open: Tues-Sat, 10am-5pm; Sun, 1pm-5pm; Free. This lovely little spot is considered one of the finest college art museums in the country with 13,000 works that cover the history of art. But, WCMA is best known for modern and contemporary art, especially its collection of American art from the late-18th century to the present.
7) The Stars are Out
Williamstown Theatre Festival
Rt. 2, 1000 Main St., Williamstown, MA; Tel: 413/597-3400; wtfestival.org; Summer

Blythe Danner, The Blue Deep
(photo: T. Charles Erickson) 
Every summer, for almost 60 years, the Festival brings top actors to this tiny town to perform in exciting versions of the classics and new works by gifted playwrights. It’s worth a trip to Williamstown to see a production. (It’s also fun to spot big-name stars eating in the local cafés.)
Dining Options: Along Spring Street, in the center of town, there are lots of nice little shops, galleries, and eateries. Or try the Gala Steakhouse at Orchards Hotel.
Spent the Night: Orchards Hotel
Getting There: Drive or from New York (Penn Station), take an Amtrak train to the Albany station (about 2 ½ hrs, with stunning views of the Hudson River along the way). Then, a taxi or car service to Williamstown, about an hour. (Abbott Limo Service: 413/243-1645)  Also, bus connections run between Pittsfield and Williamstown.





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