Guest Blog Post: Why Art Matters To Berkshire Pulse

Invitation_pix.jpgPhoto: Eric Limon


The village of Housatonic was formed in the early 1800s around the textile and paper mills that opened on the banks of the Housatonic River. At its peak, manufacturers employed over 500 people and occupied five downtown factory buildings totaling 420,000 square feet. However, like many New England manufacturing centers, the town entered a long period of decline after these businesses closed in the latter part of the 20th century. Mills sat abandoned for decades, crumbling into disrepair.

Eventually, forward-thinking residents recognized that the arts could help Housatonic redefine itself. Small galleries began to take over some of the empty storefronts, and artists began to relocate here from nearby urban areas like Boston and New York.  

Berkshire Pulse has been at the forefront of these revitalization efforts for many years. Founded in 2003 with the firm conviction that dance as a physical, mental and social experience is a powerful educational tool, Berkshire Pulse is a dynamic nonprofit dance and performing arts education center located in the heart of downtown Housatonic. Pulse’s mission is to build and strengthen community life through diverse and accessible programming in performing, movement and creative arts. 

Over the years, Pulse has invested significant energy and resources into “creative placemaking” in Housatonic. As the town’s premiere arts and cultural organization, Pulse acts as one of the key drivers of community revitalization. We looked at the long-empty mill warehouse buildings that line Park Street, the main downtown thoroughfare, and saw a unique opportunity for Pulse to improve the quality of life for residents and visitors alike. 

In 2012, Pulse launched an ambitious project to transform a raw industrial space located on the third floor of one of these mill buildings into a state-of-the-art facility for a year-round dance school. With limited resources and after overcoming many obstacles, our hard work paid off. This exciting new space opened in May 2014.

Since opening, the number of workshops offered has increased from 15 to 40 and our enrollment has grown as significantly. Our new home is poised to be a cultural focal point for the community, contributing to increased traffic and revenue for local businesses. We are pleased to report that since our project was completed, two new businesses have opened in our neighborhood, and we expect many more to follow. It is without question that an arts-based economy is the soltuion for this struggling community to find new focus and new vitality.

This is why art matters.

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