|By G. Michael Dobbs|
If I had a dollar for every time I've heard someone from Springfield, Chicopee or Holyoke look to Northampton with envy and ask, "What could we do to be like Noho?" I'd have a big pile of singles.
Northampton's success as a nationally known center for the arts and a really cool place is the type of thing business people, urban planners and residents of neighboring towns have often discussed.
I was thinking about this subject as I was writing the story about the 30th reunion of the former Zone Arts Center in Springfield. The Zone made downtown Springfield a real arts destination for 16 years.
Naturally, people wonder if this kind of endeavor could return to Springfield or happen in Holyoke or Chicopee.
Consider a minute how it happened in Northampton. When I started going to UMass in 1972, downtown Northampton was sort of sad. What transformed it were young entrepreneurs taking advantage of the low rents in old buildings.
Look at the change in Easthampton. Take cheap, available space in former factory buildings, add young artists and business people looking for space and suddenly one has an arts scene that attracts people to a community.
It's now happening in Holyoke. There are really great things happening in the Paper City with young people seeking space for a variety of activities.
The elements that are common to the three communities have been the availability of cheap space in a town some people think has lost its luster and a pool of young people looking for an affordable place for a studio.
Zone came about in a fairly organic way just as the redevelopment of Northampton and Easthampton did.
I'm all for local government giving a nudge toward this kind of transformation, but it can't, nor shouldn't, attempt to develop it itself.
I'm heartened by the success of the Arts and Soles Project in downtown Springfield and think it's a good first step to something larger. What is happening at the Bing Arts Center is also great, as is the artist's community at the Indian Orchard Mills.
If you want art to flourish in our communities, you've got to seek it out and support it.
And if you own a building in downtown Springfield that would have space larger enough for a gallery and performances, give the Springfield Business Improvement District a call perhaps Zone can return.
This will be the last column before the Sept. 14th primary and I want to urge people to vote in that election.
This is a huge "change year" in Massachusetts, with the elections of governor, Lt. governor, auditor, treasurer, state senator and state representative seats as key battles to determine the future direction of the state.
I believe that too many people think that simply agreeing with a point of view translates into some sort of action. It doesn't. If you want to make your viewpoint known, it has to be at the ballot box.
I think the election of Scott Brown to the Senate has had one good effect for the Commonwealth: it has shown people that upsets are possible and it's good to challenge the establishment.
Despite being a liberal, I can't abide the slap-on-the-back-good-old-boy-wink-wink-nudge-nudge behavior that is typical of Massachusetts state politics.
Being a Democrat does not mean I abide with the status quo. Frankly it disgusts me.
Of course, Western Massachusetts residents should always consider just how any elected official would treat us. I have to admit, at least some of the eastern Massachusetts candidates for statewide office seem to talk the talk.
Do your research and vote.
Hey, agree with me? Disagree? Drop me a line at email@example.com or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. And as always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.
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