‘Heart & Sass’ Central to North Adams’ Vibrant Renaissance
HANCOCK, Mass. — North Adams, the city with “sass,” was honored on Thursday night for “Putting the Berkshires on the Map.”
The city’s recognition by 1Berkshire puts it with Berkshire luminaries as Solid Sound Festival, Jacob’s Pillow, the Clark Art Institute, Hotel on North, Berkshire Health Systems and Tanglewood for enhancing the image of the Berkshires.
“It’s a community of neighbors that see a need and meet it, discover an opportunity and seize it, and views misfortunes as an opportunity to future success,” said community activist Annie Rodgers. “We do these things because we know, perhaps, better than most the hardship a community can face and how sweet it tastes to perservere in spite of them. …
“North Adams may be the smallest city in the commonwealth but I challenge you to find one with a bigger heart and more sass. We are one of a kind … .”
More than 300 people attended the 7th annual Berkshire Trendsetters Award event at Bloom Meadows. The emcee was Donald Dubendorf and the sponsor were Berkshire Bank, MountainOne, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
In addition to the presentation of the Putting the Berkshire on the Map award, 1Berkshire recognized seven other individuals and organizations. The Trendsetter Awards recognize businesses, organizations, and individuals whose outstanding achievements and commitment have strengthened the economy and helped the Berkshires grow.
Freshman state Sen. Adam Hinds was named Newcomer of the Year for his efforts on behalf of his Western Mass district; McCann Technical School in North Adams was the Nonprofit Impact winner for its “exemplary programs that respond to the workforce needs”; Shakespeare & Company won in the Comprehensive Marketing Campaign category; the Creative Economy Standout award went to Jacob’s Pillow Dance for bringing in thousands of visitors and opening its facility year-round; Allegrone received the Growing/Advancing the Berkshire Economy award for its dedication to tackling the needs of a growing population and downtown revitalization; Jessica Vecchia, executive director of Alchemy Initiative in Pittsfield, was named the Under 40 Change Maker for her passion and hard work within the community; and the Entrepreneur/Visionary of the Year award was given to Tad Ames for his long preservation career and dedication to creating the High Road for the Berkshire Natural Resource Council.
North Adams, last year, received the Trendsetter Award for Comprehensive Marketing Campaign, as officials had worked on rebranding the city with new, modern signage and images that could be used across marketing platforms.
It was chosen this year for Putting the Berkshires on the Map because of the “exceptional collaboration by public and private entities over the past year.” A number of initiatives have grown out of recent grass roots collaborations, including the pursuit of the Small Business Revolution grant, the Levitt AMP concerts partnered with Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, the North Adams Exchange programming with Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, and the coming NAMAzing Eagle Street Initiative.
Joseph Thompson, director of Mass MoCA, recalled the story told by Karen Hopkins, longtime Brooklyn Academy of Music president, about how Brooklyn kept trying to tie itself to Manhattan. It was only, she said, when they let “Brooklyn be Brooklyn” that a vibe began to happen in the borough.
“It’s something that Mayor [Richard] Alcombright knew in his soul for a long time but it hit me like a ton of bricks,” Thompson said. Now he’s seeing an influx of mostly younger people making their way to a city with a new pulse of energy, optimism, generosity and collaboration.
“We’re so lucky because we can enjoy this Berkshire county that includes lounging on the grass listening to classical music with flutes of champagne and that’s a lovely thing,” Thompson said. “But we can also come to North Adams and drink beer on asphalt and listen to indie rock. That’s also great.”
MCLA President Jamie Birge, originally from Lee, said he was amazed upon his return 30 years later to see North Adams’ transformation from industrial to creative.
“I think there is an energy here that is palpable and we see it every day,” he said. “I think what’s great about North Adams is we are limited only by our imagination … there’s so much more for us to do.”
Thompson laid much of the credit to Alcombright, who is completing his fourth and final term as mayor.
“I think we owe a large debt of gratitude to Dick Alcombright for creating a spirit,” he said. “It’s been a true joy to work with you and see what you’ve left in your wake … hat’s off to North Adams.”
Alcombright said it was the youthful emerging leaders in the community with drive and dedication that are pushing it forward.
But being placed in the same category as the other award winners made him a little giddy, he said, and provided some bragging rights.
“The community of North Adams’ balance sheet is solid, our assets far outweigh our liabilities, our earnings are getting stronger by the day but our most powerful attribute is that our capital seems endless,” the former banker said. “Our people, our ideas, our commitment and our place are the dynamics that make up our capital and I can assure you … it’s just the beginning.”