Standard Times: New Bedford Arts at the Tipping Point

By Steven Froias

It happened downtown.

Then it happened south of downtown…

And it happened north of downtown.

It happened way out west, too — and it’s going to happen deep into the South and North ends of the city now, too.

“It” is the explosion of art in New Bedford — which reached a milestone during the summer of ‘19 as carefully laid plans, strenuous effort and visionary ideals came together to produce a summer like no other in New Bedford.

And, along the way toward cementing the city’s appeal as a destination arts hub, more of its citizens became engaged in the process of making that happen from public parks to public housing developments.

Consider the following gifts bestowed upon New Bedford these past few months, executed in concert with artists, youth and residents from its diverse neighborhoods:


Patrick Shearn’s sitespecific design of one of his signature ‘skynets’ at Custom House Square Park, commissioned by DATMA, kicked off the stampede of art this summer in New Bedford. In a May 15th column, this columnist wrote, “….thousands will experience this city because of all this effort. That’s the power of arts and culture; to bring a community and region together for a unique shared experience.”

That’s exactly what’s happened. You can see people enjoying moments under Silver Current every day in Custom House Square. You can find it all over people’s social media feeds. It’s been featured in media all over the region and beyond.

Silver Current and its companion series of events collectively called “Summer Winds” sought to visualize the State of the Arts and city in this moment in time and into the future — and it’s done just that.

“THEY DID IT” Part 2:

Back in June, this column was happy to break the news that SUPERFLAT NB had succeeded in achieving a stunning fundraising goal for itself: $50,000 which would then be matched by an additional $50,000 from MassDevelopment. In the end, they soared past $70,000 to get the match — and began executing their no less ambitious goals for the coming season.

New Bedford saw those goals on its walls throughout the city as SUPERFLAT doubled down on flattening barriers to arts everywhere.

First was a monumental mural on the Cape Verdean Bisca Club. That was followed up by a partnership with the New Bedford Housing Authority and the Boston-based artist Cedric at Ben Rose Gardens (still ongoing as this column heads to print). And finally, back downtown to refresh their signature walls downtown overlooking Custom House Square Park, adopting DATMA’s “Summer Winds” theme.

Like Silver Current, over the course of the summer, SUPERFLAT managed to create unique experiences for residents of and visitors to New Bedford alike — while broadening the dialogue of public art in the city.


At Clasky Common Park, the New Bedford Art Museum/ArtWorks got busy on the courts — the basketball courts. “Courting the Sky” became an instantly iconic piece of public art, created in concert between artist Maria Molteni and residents. They came together to define their own neighborhood and claim it as their own, just like at Ben Rose Gardens. When the summer is over, the values of “Courting the Sky” will continue to resonate.


In the wild northwest of the city off Shawmut Avenue, wild man Alexander Jardin got busy at Haskell Park — and created a tour de force installation called Haskell Jardin. For the artist, it was a moment to come into his own as a skilled purveyor of public art. For Haskell Public Gardens, it was an opportunity to once again remind the city and region that this beautiful space is not only recognized for its horticultural beauty, but the vision that city artists bring to it, too.

Taken all together, and with many other projects of distinction, the Summer of ‘19 may very well be remembered as the season the city hit a tipping point. When a collective of diverse persons, groups and organizations — many acting in concert and collaboration with each other — conspired to create a renewed arts agenda for New Bedford that is indeed reaching into every neighborhood.

It must be pointed out that this didn’t happen by accident or without the support of the community. The effects of substantial amounts of funding as dispersed by the Community Foundation of Massachusetts through its Creative Commonwealth initiative is having an impact in New Bedford that can now be seen on its streets, for example. The City’s Arts and Culture funding via Wicked Cool Places is investing in the city. And, private businesses and individuals are increasingly playing a role in that investment, too. If this flood of art hasn’t totally transformed the City of New Bedford yet, there’s little doubt that a profound transformation is underway as this flood promises to become a tidal wave.

And what all the artists and visionary champions of the arts can accurately now say when it comes to realizing their ambitions is…”promises made, promises kept.”