Soaring on the High C’s: #NBCreative Courts, Commonwealth & Consortium Converge for an Inspiring Summer

By Steven Froias, Contributing Writer

By now, most readers will have seen in this newspaper or in person the massive outdoor art installation “Silver Current” in downtown’s Custom House Square Park.

Part of the DATMA — Design, Art, Technology, Massachusetts — “Summer Winds” project, it’s an achievement of merit and brings national and international attention to the City of New Bedford.

“Silver Current” is the crowning glory of summer in this city and marks a milestone in its progression as an arts and culture leader in the region and state.

But, it’s important to remember that “Silver Current” is the by-product of a vigorous years-long (in a broader sense decades) ascension of creativity in New Bedford. That creativity is not only reflected in the shimmering waves of kinetic sculpture over Custom House Square Park, but increasingly in neighborhoods throughout the city.

That’s no accident. It’s by design.

It’s embedded in last year’s first-ever New Bedford Arts and Culture Plan. It’s reflected in the investment being made by the Barr Foundation in Creative Commonwealth Initiative funding launched by the Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts.

And, it finds expression in projects like Creative Courts — coming to Clasky Common Park this summer.

Even as “Silver Current” was being installed last Wednesday, June 26, New Bedford was busy everywhere getting #NBCreative.

Creative Courts was just one of the projects discussed during a meeting of the public art task force, part of the newly formed Creative Consortium under the arts plan, at 3 p.m. at City Hall last Wednesday.

One of its functions is to help guide and coordinate art projects throughout the entire city.

Immediately after, at 4 p.m., the Community Foundation announced its second round of Creative Commonwealth funding to arts and culture organizations in the SouthCoast region. More than $100,000 was distributed as further investment in the region.

That’s Creative Courts, Creative Consortium and then Creative Commonwealth — all adding up to one #NBCreative — and alliterative — afternoon!

Creative Courts was one of the beneficiaries of the first round of Creative Commonwealth funding announced last year. It’s representative of the terrific type of projects that seek to enrich neighborhoods, engage youth and stimulate community through art — each and every one goals of the funding.

The New Bedford Art Museum/ArtWorks! will be curating Creative Courts, and working in concert with New Bedford Parks, Recreation and Beaches, A’s B4 J’s, SUPERFLAT and 3rd EyE Unlimited.

Museum director Ashley Occhino says that the basketball court mural project is designed to be as inclusive as possible, and is a natural outgrowth of NBAM’s successful artMOBILE which already brings art to city parks all summer long.

A project description further explains, “In developing Creative Courts, New Bedford Art Museum/ArtWorks! sought to bring a new type of creative engagement beyond our artMOBILE program to New Bedford’s parks.”

Creative Courts at the Clasky Common Park basketball courts by Purchase Street will be run by artist Maria Molteni.

Nasheville-born and now Boston-based, her impressive bio/cv runs to several pages on her website, and definitely warrants a look.

Artist and activist, Molteni combines a passion for sports and feminism in her work, which with Creative Courts will find expression by dramatically overhauling the gray basketball courts at Clasky Common and introducing public art into the equation.

Molteni completed court murals in Boston as an artist-in-residence in that city within the last couple of years.

The goal?

Turning “drab spaces into inviting places for recreation that will benefit not just the average athletic male who utilizes the court but also women and queer people,” according to the project outline. “Lead artist Maria Molteni has seen the same scene play out beautifully many times — once color is incorporated, girls will rush onto the court — excited and feeling that they now belong here too.”

As it was in Boston, this won’t be a one-woman show. It will be a team effort.

A hallmark of her work and where art and engagement meet is in the workshops Molteni holds to create the revitalized courts with the people — typically youth — who actually use them.

It’s a way of not only bringing public art to new neighborhoods, but neighbors into the very act of creation.

The museum defines the outcome in this way: Our Creative Courts project employs creative problem solving to call attention to neglected public spaces, enhance the optics of New Bedford with contemporary art, encourage participation over spectatorship, use basketball to reach populations that have less access to contemporary art, and encourage positive relationships between athletes, artists, and neighbors.”

Sounds like a slam dunk.

Delivering arts and culture to all of the city is a prime objective of Creative Commonwealth funding.

Make that a tale of two cities; NBAM/ArtWorks, Molteni and crew will also be replicating the project at Fall River’s Talbot Middle School basketball courts, too.

The combination of a pool of skilled talent, a plan that’s being brought to life and stable funding is beginning to be felt throughout New Bedford.

NBAM sums it up nicely by writing, “This type of collaborative-imagining is what makes Creative Courts more than a mural project; rather it is a transformative experience that enriches the topography of the city while building community.”

Last Wednesday saw many more projects under discussion at the Consortium task force meeting — all over the city. Later, there were lots of happy people who received good news thanks to the Creative Commonwealth initiative. State of the Arts looks forward to reporting on all of them.

The old saying goes that knowing your ABCs is a good thing. But In New Bedford, knowing your CCs may be even better — as in Creative Consortium, Creative Commonwealth and Creative Courts.

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