“You cannot do arts and culture in order to have economic development. Do arts and culture for its own sake, but wait for the lovely side effects” Megan Whilden, Director of Cultural Development in Pittsfield, MA
The city of Pittsfield embraced creativity, arts and culture at a time when the city and its residents needed it most. From there, the "lovely side effects" have been incredible.
WHERE: Downtown Pittsfield
WHEN: Beginning with Maggie Mailer’s work with the Storefront Artist Project in 2002, Pittsfield has spent the past ten years rebuilding and revitalizing its downtown. In 2003, Pittsfield’s then-Mayor Jim Ruberto formed the Office of Cultural Development and strengthened the city’s support of arts and culture and its commitment to creative placemaking.
WHO: Megan Whilden, Director of Cultural Development, has been at the forefront of much of the artistic, cultural and creative growth in the Pittsfield area. Along with a burgeoning community of artists and creative thinkers, Megan has helped create and maintain programming and development that make Pittsfield a safe haven for the creative community.
WHY: When asked why Pittsfield has embraced creativity as one of its primary industries, Whilden responded simply: “one of the key ingredients is hitting bottom.” By this, she means the aftermath of GE closing its operations in the area, taking thousands of jobs and leaving environmental destruction. Once Pittsfield “hit bottom”, in Whilden’s terms, it was easy to embrace creativity as a means of revitalization. Whilden said that they were seeking vibrancy and the “arts and cultural sector is one of the very best at creating that vibrancy.”
IMPACT: Today, more than half a million people visit Pittsfield each year and the community is diverse and lively. As the designated municipal staff person working with the creative community, Megan Whilden’s work is focused on promoting, supporting and creating cultural activities in the city. The impact of having someone dedicated to promoting creative activity full time makes an enormous difference in the availability and success of such events and programming. Unlike ten years ago, Pittsfield today is a vibrant town that exudes life and possibility. Whilden tells the story of a long-time Pittsfield resident who had previously given up hope in the city. At the city’s monthly Third Thursday event, this resident was brought to tears upon seeing the main street filled with people, activity and life.
This large-scale creative revitalization would be impossible without the support of city leadership, creative thinkers from the area and supportive residents. In its darkest moments, the city of Pittsfield came together and made the city not only a sustainable community, but also an incredible place to live and visit.
When asked what’s next for Pittsfield, Whilden responded that she doesn’t know and can “only keep saying yes, walking the walk of ‘yes’ and truly accepting and promoting creativity and new ideas.”
The country that have no culture and arts never success and have no future.