For mid-sized cities having an identity is a challenge. I was working in radio when the laws controlling ownership changed and saw just how quickly “local radio” all but disappeared. The same is true of banking and retail, food and drink, news and entertainment; the list goes on. Lots of places have been staging a comeback in this regard of course with things like local breweries, farmers’ markets, programs on public media, blogs, podcasts, and countless other ways; in the main most people still live in a geography of nowhere made up of Applebee’s, cable news, I Heart Radio, Bank of America, Budweiser, and Target.
Springfield has it particularly bad in this regard as it is so close to two of the world’s most dynamic major cities and, of the seemingly few people who feel any connection at all to place, they choose to identify with Boston, or New York. Somehow wanting to be where you are in a place like this is identified with failure, whether as a young person or as a retiree; you should always want to be somewhere else doing something else bigger and better. My view has always been the contrary; make up your own rules of the game and declare victory.
The arts are funny category of stuff in particular as connected with all of this. For the majority the only “art” they experience is mass produced and would be identical in Peoria or Providence: Arianna Grande, The Avengers. For those who consider themselves more discerning it’s Hamilton, and maybe a trip to the Metropolitan Museum. It’s still not local, it’s still not really yours unless you identify with the Superstar City.
It has been great to see Springfield turn this on its head in the last week with Fresh Paint Springfield. A few months ago a woman contacted my wife on the phone and asked if she could meet with us about having Luna help her with doing some promotional work for a first of its kind Springfield mural festival. We invited Britt Ruhe over to meet Lu and get some idea as to what the project entailed. It seemed amazing in concept but, with mere weeks to throw it all together and Britt being an outsider from “above the tofu curtain” (Amherst in this case) I really thought that there was a fair to middling chance that Springfield’s general hard-core, thoroughgoing malaise combined with a fair dose of bureaucratic red tape would chew this idea up and spit it out.
Oh, was I wrong. This thing has taken off.
Even in a week where our own in-house star found herself performing in three different locally written and produced theatrical productions, including the start of a tour which will take her to 8 local elementary schools in 4 days, we managed to participate 4 times with each of us painting some part of one of the murals and with Luna herself being depicted on one of the most prominent.
Half of the artists are local and half not, but they have all given their works deep roots in Springfield, from the sport invented here, basketball, to this community’s role in the Underground Railroad, and from our Dr Seuss, to our new identity as a Puerto Rican enclave. Not only do you need to be here to truly experience them, but being from here gives you special insight into their meaning.
The energy in yesterday’s concluding block party, hosted by an honest to goodness local brewery, was near euphoric. As we wandered the environs we met a dozen friends who all just happened to be involved in one way or another in the festival. Luna not only ran into a friend from school, she was recognized as the title character in “Anansi” by a child from the Bowles Elementary school where she had performed just the day before, and then she was smothered by people from Skyview Towers who recognized her likeness from the mural pieces they had seen being painted in their community room.
What a day to celebrate art, artists, and the community which gives them inspiration. There has never been a better day to be here, nor anyplace better to be than here, at least on this particular day.