New Bedford ‘artrepreneur’ puts a face on the arts for policy makers


When the economy tanked in 2008, working artist Tracy Silva Barbosa moved back to her native New Bedford from Brooklyn to save on expenses. It was a difficult move. Silva Barbosa, whose intricately layered paintings explore the intersection between nature and urban life, thrived on the pre-crash New York City art scene.

“There’s a vibrant energy in the New York City art world that comes from its multiculturalism,” says Silva Barbosa. “Everybody is just colliding against each like electrons. There’s lots of energy and art being sold, lots of private collectors, and it’s a bustling atmosphere.”

Though she left New York reluctantly, Silva Barbosa didn’t sit around sulking after moving back to Massachusetts. The self-described “artrepreneur” and proprietor of T Silva Barbosa Studio found an active role in New Bedford’s ever-burgeoning arts and cultural community. She became involved with New Bedford Open Studios, serving as secretary and director of marketing, communications, and social media, and later as the organization’s co-chair. She also joined the steering committee of AHA! (Art, History & Architecture), which hosts free downtown cultural nights in the city. Silva-Barbosa also lives and works at The Ropeworks, an artist-only condo collective in a beautifully renovated industrial space in the North End of the city on the Acushnet River.

“New Bedford has a very vibrant arts community, and it continues to grow,” says Silva Barbosa.

In 2014, Silva-Barbosa received a commission from the City of Providence to create one of 10 original bus shelters for the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority’s new low-emissions R-line. “The Mercurial Tree” is a glass enclosure depicting iconic industrial structures from Providence as well as surrounding areas. Above this distant, post-industrial landscape is a cascade of golden chandeliers “growing” in the foreground.

“I wanted to create a beautiful, private space of contemplation for those using this bus shelter. It can be a moment of transcendence during your commute,” Silva Barbosa says, adding that the work is a turning point in her art career. “Glass Art in the public setting is my calling. I can’t wait to do more.”

Silva Barbosa’s involvement in New Bedford’s arts and cultural scene inevitably led to her involvement with MASSCreative as a community leader and member advocate. In 2014, local arts maven Irene Buck recruited Silva Barbosa to attend a MASSCreative organizing meeting at DeDee Shattuck Gallery in Westport. Though she had no idea what MASSCreative was, Silva Barbosa was drawn to the idea of arts advocacy in the public/political arena, especially when she considered how state funding for the arts had consistently been whittled away during her lifetime due to the absence of advocacy.

“Lawmakers assume, ‘Well we need the money, let’s take it from the arts. We need a little extra money over here, let’s take it from the arts.’ There was no proper advocate present to stand up and assert the importance of art.” Silva Barbosa says. “I think that arts advocacy is a noble cause. Big Pharma has representation at the State House. Now, art has representation and I think that’s an amazing thing.”

Last fall, Silva Barbosa was part of Create the Vote New Bedford, the advocacy campaign to make arts and culture part of the political discussion in the city’s mayoral campaign. Silva Barbosa was among those who met with candidates to discuss their vision for the city’s creative sector. The meetings help to humanize the people on either side of the table—and that’s an important part of making change happen, says Silva Barbosa.

“Especially in local politics, connecting face-to-face is one of the most important things you can do in any business,” she says. “You have to go out there and meet those people who are going to be enthusiastic about helping you, and working with you. Artists are known to be reclusive at times. If you’re going to make a living as an artist, then you must be a business person as well, and that means leaving the studio and making yourself seen and heard.”

Silva Barbosa credits MASSCreative with encouraging artists to think more strategically and become more politically engaged: “MASSCreative for me, acts as the translator between dry governmental politics and the politics that I care about. Ensuring that art education, and the arts, have funding are my priorities.”

Though Silva Barbosa has built a sustainable career as an “artrepreneur,” she is adamant that public funding for arts and culture is imperative to a community’s development and therefore, the quality of life, and as such, it is incumbent on all members of the community to support the arts financially.

“I think that there should be a desire in all of us—taxpayers and funders—to support the growth of humanity.” Silva Barbosa says. “So, I think that preserving arts funding is very important. The fruits of it aren’t as tangible as a new bridge or road, but the way an artist might translate and interpret that bridge or road enlightens people who live around it, and improves their existence—art does have a long term effect on all of us. It is a priority.”

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commented 2016-03-30 10:39:42 -0400 · Flag
Well said my friend- thank you for your actions and for advocating for us artists. We ARE important!

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