Three Noteworthy Impressions from 2023…

By Steven Froias

#NBCreative Writer-at-Large

Capitalizing on the subjectivity afforded by a blog project, I am utilizing the final two posts of the year to articulate reflections that may not find a home elsewhere. This piece is dedicated to three observations from the just-concluded year, while the subsequent one will delve into three aspects of #NBCreative arts and culture that I anticipate will prove captivating in 2024.

These observations are shaped by direct experiences and encapsulate thoughts that often remain unexpressed in finalized, polished pieces or press releases. Nevertheless, I believe they underscore the dynamism and resilience of the New Bedford arts and culture community.

So, without a prescribed order, here are three noteworthy impressions from the year just past:

If You Build It, They Do Indeed Come

The impact of The Steeple Playhouse’s opening in the former First Baptist Church on William Street in downtown New Bedford may not have been fully appreciated. It’s a spanking new, novel arts venue in the heart of the city – just outside City Hall’s windows! 

I don’t think it’s received the regional media attention it deserves. Yet, audiences have certainly grasped its significance. Your Theatre’s inaugural performance, Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder on the Orient Express,’ was a sell-out, as was the relocated New Bedford Jazzfest.

This validates the notion that constructing spaces conducive to artistic flourishing has a profound impact on both the cultural experience’s quality and the local economy. People endorse this investment of passion and purpose by showing up in large numbers. It not only reflects the arts’ relevance in New Bedford but also demonstrates the payoff of innovative thinking. 

The collaboration between Your Theatre and the Waterfront Area Historic League (WHALE), and their ability to think outside the box, has not only bestowed upon the city a distinctive arts destination but also rescued this historic building from obsolescence. 

It’s a big feather in New Bedford’s cap on many levels – one that I suspect will get more attention as time goes by. 

A Family Affair on Acushnet Avenue

The installation of “Love Locks” in the Nye Street Pocket Park, a joint project by New Bedford Creative and the New Bedford TDI District, did receive significant media attention—deservedly so. Keith Francis’s piece is the north end’s inaugural work of contemporary public art. The grand unveiling on July 26 showcased an embrace of both the art and the artist that surpassed the headlines.

But meeting Keith’s family at the event, including his mother and brother who traveled from Arizona for the opening celebration, added a personal and joyful dimension to the occasion. Keith’s mother, having lived on Nye Street just a few doors down from where “Love Locks” now resides, and having married at St. Anthony of Padua Church overlooking the park, made the unveiling a family affair and a neighborhood homecoming. 

This familial aspect, coupled with the presence of many current neighborhood families, contributed to the evening’s celebratory atmosphere. In addition to the art on exhibit, pride of place also enjoyed its moment in the late afternoon summer sun as family from then and family from today came together to become one big family in this ever-changing north end neighborhood.

New Bedford’s Other Creative Class

In late spring, as I traversed Custom House Square en route to the YMCA, I witnessed the dedicated effort invested by the City of New Bedford’s Department of Public Infrastructure (DPI) in bringing DATMA’s “Shelter” to life in the city center. 

Beyond the art itself, and meeting Mark Reigelman at the site of his “Threshold” project, I was struck by the meticulous care and effort put forth by DPI personnel in creating the underpinnings of the impending artwork.

These individuals, committed to their work, play a crucial role in making various artistic endeavors throughout the city possible. Another example of the substantial contribution of New Bedford DPI is their indispensable support for the annual Seaport Art Walk. It is not an exaggeration to assert that much of what we appreciate in the city owes itself to these dedicated, creative public employees.

The city and our community are fortunate to have some of the best professionals in the business among our ranks, contributing to what makes us #NBCreative this year and every year.

Featured photo: At the New Bedford Jazzfest in The Steeple Playhouse. Photo courtesy Bob Hughes for NB Jazzfest. 

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