NEW BEDFORD – A new ‘Love Letter to New Bedford’ campaign has been launched to empower and promote local artists.
With the help of Creative Ambassadors and a Connecting Creation Cohort assembled by New Bedford Creative, under the direction of Arts Midwest, the project will weave stories of connection and creativity into a public narrative and embrace of the arts. .
“The creative community and artists really contribute to the quality of life in New Bedford,” said Margo Saulnier, director and creative strategist of New Bedford Creative. “They are the ones who make these connections between friends, family, neighborhoods and community members.”
The idea to launch the Love Letter Project came after New Bedford was selected by Arts Midwest and the Barr Foundation as the play space for their Creative Connection initiative.
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A city-wide storytelling project
Michael Johnson, community engagement manager at Arts Midwest, said that after talking to artists who live and work in the city, he observed a common theme: love.
“We are so fortunate to have creative and extraordinarily talented individuals who also care deeply about the community in which they live,” said Saulnier.
“We’re also looking to target people outside of our arts and culture community,” said Jasmyn Baird, senior creative researcher at the New Bedford Economic Development Council.
“I often hear people think or feel that they’re not artists, so they’re not creative. And I think through this campaign, we’re demystifying that fact and bringing more unity to our community. “
Decades of craftsmanship
Saulnier said that while New Bedford’s art scene may seem like an overnight success, it’s been decades in the making. In fact, several programs in the city are celebrating significant milestones, such as the National Historic Whale Park and New Bedford Historical Society celebrating 25 years and the Star Store and Aha! celebrating their 20th anniversary.
“There is so much to celebrate here in terms of history, culture and uniqueness,” said Iva Brito, Founder and Executive Director of Iva Brito Consultancy (IBC), as well as one of the seven ambassadors selected to participate in the love letter campaign. .
“New Bedford looks very different from 10-20 years ago… now the little girl in me is jumping because this is the town I grew up in and am proud of and carry on to celebrate, to now have a voice in her….it’s awesome, I’m so grateful.”
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Hailing from Cabo Verde, West Africa, Brito said she channels her nostalgic love for her birthplace through her talents. Performing and speaking across the country, she shares her diverse cultural heritage, calling for liberation and justice for humanity.
She was a featured artist in the music video for the women’s rights anthem “Take Back the Power,” a partnership with National Parks, celebrating the centennial of women’s suffrage in 2020.
Encourage young people to participate
The Arts Midwest Creating Connection initiative will enhance IBC’s Arts and Culture Paid Fellowship program, which engages New Bedford immigrant youth to explore their creativity and leadership skills.
“When I heard about it I was so excited because I felt like it was so in line with my organization which truly believes that we are all artists and that creativity can serve as a process of liberation , and really remembering and owning our power,” Brito said.
“Bringing everyone around the table is important to me.”
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Brito hopes his addition to the project will ensure that different populations are seen and heard, especially often invisible people like young immigrants.
“Bringing multiple generations to the table and providing access leads to a more vibrant community,” she added. “The more people we bring to the table, the more great things we can create in New Bedford.”
Mandy Fraser, another campaign ambassador, is a local painter, illustrator, muralist, graphic designer and co-founder of the Queer Arts Council of New Bedford.
Originally from Falmouth, like many in the 80s and 90s, he was told that New Bedford was not a safe place and the town should be avoided at all costs.
“I ended up moving to New Bedford and realized it really wasn’t the dangerous town that people were making it out to be,” she said. “I realized the culture of what was happening here and the art scene at the time.”
Fraser remains involved and connected to her community through her work as a board member of the South Coast LGBTQ+ Network, President of the AHA! Pride Committee, visual arts coordinator of 3rdEyE Youth Empowerment and member of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee of the historic Rotch-Jones-Duff House in New Bedford.
Celebrating New Bedford Pride
For her proposal, Fraser will incorporate New Bedford’s infamous nickname “Secret City” into a project she calls “Secret City Whales.”
“Because of its bad reputation for so long, people have missed the fact that there are incredibly talented people here like musicians, artists, chefs, storytellers, historians, architects – the list goes on. stretch out over and over,” she said.
Fraser will paint large whales made from words written in the style of graffiti. The words consist of different terms, places, mottoes, ideas and love letters to New Bedford, which she will ask people to write on sticky notes.
“I already have this amazing collection of sticky notes. They’re just awesome to read. Some of them brought me to tears. It’s really moving,” she said.
“I hope people seeing their words incorporated into a work of art will create a sense of inclusion in the artistic community and instill a sense of pride in our city.”
Writer, Steven Froias, will help shape the stories and maintain the narrative and associated social media; storyteller and social media manager Beatriz Oliveira, photographers Justin Botelho, Frank Oliver, John Robson and Josh Souza; and videographer Ethan de Aguiar.
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Creative Ambassadors of Creating Connection also include Candida Rose Baptista, Gerardo Beltrán Salinas, Cedric Douglas, Rhonda M. Fazio, Beatriz Oliveira and Julia Roth.
The start of a bigger conversation
Roth, an interdisciplinary artist therapist, has worked with individuals and communities for over a decade to share art, engagement, stories and healing.
With one mural already created in West Beach, Roth will create two more large-scale interactive wheat dough walls throughout the city for community members to fill in however they see fit.
“Think of it as a really big crazy style letter that the audience fills out,” she said.
She hopes it will be a way to learn more about what people love in New Bedford and how New Bedford can love them back.
“As human beings, I think it’s essential to take the time to reflect and ask ourselves what we like about what’s going on and what we can improve on. This is our home.” she added.
“I hope this is just the start of a conversation that we continue to share.”
New Bedford Creative and Arts Midwest believe that connection is engendered through creative expression, achieved through growth that teaches and inspires, according to Saunier.
In doing so, a community finds a voice that honors its heritage and allows it to be shared across generations. Which in turn promotes well-being and promotes happiness. Together, they are the values that help to bond – and strengthen an entire city.
“We want New Bedford’s 100,000 residents to be proud of their town and for the people who live here to know that what they’re doing is really great work,” Saulnier said.
Standard-Times editor Seth Chitwood can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @ChitwoodReports. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Standard-Times today.