BELCHERTOWN — Belchertown is one of eight communities across Massachusetts that has been selected for Making it Public for Municipalities, a training series offered by the New England Foundation for the Arts, in partnership with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council’s Arts & Culture Department.

These trainings equip administrators with ways to strengthen local capacity to support, create and promote more vibrant public artmaking.

Creative Economy Coordinator E. Maude Haak-Frendscho for the town of Belchertown said, “We started orientation last week to meet the trainers and our colleagues from across Massachusetts representing other selected municipalities, and are excited for this learning opportunity. It’s already sparking new dialogue around the possibilities for local public art-making.”

Clapp Memorial Library Director Cyndi Harbeson, youth librarian Jennifer Whitehead and Haak-Frendscho started talking about opportunities to work together on community arts projects last summer in the context of building up coordinated programming and marketing efforts among arts and culture organizations in the forthcoming Cultural District. Belchertown is preparing to apply for Cultural District designation from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. The Clapp Memorial Library hosted a temporary public sculpture last year, and organizes an incredible number of community events, from author events and live music to youth and family programs and arts workshops. When the application for Making it Public for Municipal Staff came up, Haak-Frendscho thought it made sense that they apply together for a collaborative project.

“The Making it Public program is application-based and in our submission,” Haak-Frendscho said. “We shared both the existing public artwork in Belchertown and our desires moving forward. We started collaborating on the application in September 2023, and we were notified that we had been selected to participate in Nov. 2023 by email from Jessica Wong Camhi, NEFA’s interim program manager for public art. NEFA and MAPC made a public announcement on Jan. 23, 2024, the same day as our orientation, of the third cohort of the program.”

The 2024 trainings take place virtually on Tuesdays from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. through April 2. Each session is structured to address some facet of the process, from big-picture thinking around public art, to learning practical skills like navigating procurement processes in municipal calls for public art. They collectively build towards the development of a call for temporary public artwork, which will be released after the conclusion of the training series. Armed with templates and training materials, the town will then select and implement a temporary public artwork, likely in spring 2025. In addition to resulting in a completed artwork, the training will also give them the expanded staff capacity and blueprint for processes to pursue additional public artworks again in the future. At the end of the training, Belchertown will have a completed call for temporary public art, as well as a clear management process within municipal financial structures and $15,000 grant from NEFA to produce a temporary public artwork, including artist fees, materials, fabrication and installation.

Public artwork gives the town a means of engaging with local residents, supporting local artists and creating a beautiful, visually interesting town. Resulting artworks can also offer a sense of place and belonging by reflecting a positive vision of Belchertown.

Harbeson, Whitehead and Haak-Frendscho are poised to learn while developing the framework for the temporary public artwork that will be supported by the Making it Public grant. They’ll need to identify specifics like a location, preferred medium, timeline and budget for their local call for artist proposals, and have their internal systems ready to respond. In the meantime, they’re also building their partnership in municipal arts programming with the launch of the Belchertown Wildlife & Landscape Photography program, which includes workshops for youth, teens, and adults, as well as a photo contest and exhibition for selected photos in each age group. The Belchertown Wildlife & Landscape Photography program is an intergenerational opportunity to participate in learning, exploration, and expression. It’s a partnership between the Clapp Memorial Library, town of Belchertown Planning Department, and town of Belchertown Conservation Commission.

More details on that program can be found at belchertown.org/planning.

“The Making It Public program and funding is instrumental to developing a sustainable municipal arts program that engages community members,” Haak-Frendscho responded. “The tools, templates, and funding are a unique opportunity for us to learn in a collaborative and low-risk environment that can also result in a large impact. Through this practice, we aspire to strengthen community bonds, forging relationships of trust and respect among residents while instilling a sense of pride, a sense of place and a sense of belonging for all residents.”

Miasha Lee
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