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Enrich the city with more arts and culture

By G. Michael Dobbs Managing Editor I had the pleasure of driving to White River Junction, Vt., last week to be a guest lecturer at the Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS) one of two schools in this country dedicated to further the education of artists who wish to be cartoonists. A buddy of mine teaches at the school and he had me talk about how comic strips and books have been adapted into other media and the economic imperatives that surround those adaptations. I think the class went well. The students asked questions and none seemed to fall asleep always a good sign. And most of them turned up at the animation night I later presented. A side benefit, though, was to see how White River Junction is evolving. My friend moved up to that part of the Green Mountain state several years ago and when I first saw the little downtown area I thought it looked pretty grim. White River Junction is a town whose fortunes rose and fell with the railroad. Although trains go through the town today, they no longer represent the kind of economic engine they once did. Instead, art is now drawing new residents and helping to fill up the storefronts. CCS took up an old department store while a group of artists and a restaurant share a building that once housed a bakery. This is not to say the town doesn't have its problems, but it is heartening to see how the town is becoming a better place. In Springfield, City Councilor Tim Rooke has urged the active adoption of the measures Pittsfield has taken to use the arts to attract new residents and new visitors. I hope someone takes his message seriously in the city government. On the private side one can see how Open Square in Holyoke and the Indian Orchard Mills in Springfield have truly made significant improvements. The continuing development of the Bing Theater is an important part of an increased arts and culture presence in the city. The marketing actions of Passport Holyoke to draw people to attractions there is also a great step forward. The announcement that the owners of the Paramount block in downtown Springfield would like to convert the office space into apartment/studio space for artists would be an exciting addition to downtown. Some of this redevelopment must be from private investments, but municipal government needs to have a role in it. So if you're leaf peeping in the next few weeks the color around White River Junction looked pretty nice drop by that town and take a stroll. *** I'm not a betting man, but I wouldn't have guessed that a political newcomer to Agawam politics, Derek Benton, would have been the candidate for mayor topping the primary. What message are voters trying to send? I'm not a mind reader either, but I'm willing to say the rejection of incumbent Mayor Susan Dawson and City Councilor Cecilia Calabrese might indicate a general dissatisfaction with the political status quo in the town. Benton even squeaked by former mayor Richard Cohen. I suppose Agawam voters really want some sort of major change in direction. The next few weeks will be pretty interesting. *** What East Longmeadow elected official is a slow learner and still is apparently posting Facebook messages that some people will interpret about town business? The posting that refers to someone resigning is pretty interesting but awfully non-specific. That kind of message is actually worse than saying something out right it's too open to interpretation. Remember folks: posting something on Facebook is the same as blogging. It's out there. It's public and I'm reading it as well as many, many other people. And if it's newsworthy you're going to see it here. This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments online to news@thereminder.com or to 280 N. Main St.,East Longmeadow, Mass. 01028.
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