West Stockbridge site ready for new role as multifaceted arts, performance center

By John Townes
Published June 11, 2019
Berkshire Trade & Commerce

Amy Brentano of Richmond has started a for-profit business to support nonprofit cultural organizations and activities. Earlier this year Brentano purchased a 3,600-square-foot building at 2 Harris St. in the center of West Stockbridge that previously housed the Diana Felber Art Gallery and an attached sculpture studio. She has since been converting the building into an arts and performance center called The Foundry, which is owned and operated by Brentano as The Foundry LLC. She is preparing to open the full facility this summer. Brentano’s goal is for The Foundry to become a vibrant regional center for creative expression and community engagement. The Foundry will host live theatrical performances, music, readings, discussions, educational workshops, art exhibits and other activities.

She described it as “a holding tank for emerging artists creating relevant, intentional work in music, theater and spoken word,” and as a facility for educational and community workshops. “It will have an emphasis on new work that is relevant and challenging, and gives voice to young artists and others who are not always heard,” said Brentano. “It will also be oriented to community programs and events for diverse audiences.” She added that it is organized to foster partnerships, collaborations and residencies with local and outside theater companies, other cultural and community organizations, and educational programs. Among other roles, The Foundry is the new home of Bazaar Productions Inc./ Berkshire Fringe, a 12-year-old nonprofitBerkshire-based theater company. Brentano is a member of Bazaar Productions and is on its artistic advisory board. After a hiatus of about two years, Bazaar Productions is relaunching their programming this summer at The Foundry and plans to revive its Berkshire Fringe Festival next year (see related story on opposite page). The building was constructed in 1994 to house a glassblowing studio and gallery. It has two sections, including a large open studio space. The other section includes the art gallery, and an upper floor. Brentano is converting the former studio into a 99-seat black-box theater/performance space equipped with lighting, sound system and other elements. (A black-box theater is an open space that has the flexibility to accommodate different configurations of stage and seating.) The first floor of the adjacent section will serve as a combination lobby and art gallery, and will also be used for receptions and other events. The second floor includes offices and a large space suitable for rehearsals and other activities. Brentano has already held events on a limited basis at The Foundry (413-232-5222 or www.thefoundryws.com or Facebook page The Foundry WS). Early examples of the type of productions that The Foundry will bring to West Stockbridge included a performance in April of Shakespeare’s play Pericles. That was presented in the gallery space by The Rig, a touring theater company that specializes in bringing accessible professional theater to diverse audiences in community settings including shelters, low-income family and senior centers. Admission was on a “pay what you can” basis. On May 19, The Foundry will present Gasping Whiteness, a play and community workshop exploring white supremacy’s impact on parenting in progressive, middle-class communities. It tells the stories of two families (one white and one African-American) and is performed as a staged reading by a cross-racial, cross-generational ensemble, followed by a discussion. This will be the first production in the black-box theater space, which has been undergoing renovations this spring. Tickets are on a sliding scale, and the proceeds will benefit Multicultural BRIDGE, a Berkshire based organization that serves as a catalyst for racial and social justice. Lenox-based WAM Theatre, which is marking its 10th year, will have a residency there in July.

Venue for Creative Innovation

Brentano is a professional theater educator, director, playwright and actor. A native of Indiana, she moved to the Berkshires in 2001 from New York City. She has worked with WAM Theatre and other Berkshire theater organizations, as well as being an instructor at Berkshire Country Day School, Richmond School and other educational institutions. Brentano said she had been percolating the idea of establishing a venue for creative innovation and education for a while. When the Harris Street property went on the market, she took the plunge and purchased it for $535,000, with a commercial mortgage from Pittsfield Cooperative Bank. “I had more than a few sleepless nights about taking on a mortgage of that size, and my husband did a lot of reassuring that it would work out,” said Brentano, who is married to Adam Weinberg, a garden designer and stone mason who operates Second Nature Garden Design. She said the location and quality of the building were catalysts for her decision because it was so well-suited to her goals. “It’s a phenomenal building,” she said. “Because it was a originally a glassblowing studio, it’s very sturdy and is already equipped with all the electric power we’ll need.” She sees its location in West Stockbridge as an advantage because it is near both central and southern Berkshire County. It is also accessible to the wider region, and is near the Massachusetts Turnpike and New York Thruway. “There’s also a lot of exciting things happening in West Stockbridge, and it’s great to be part of that,” she said. “The local community has been very supportive of this.” The building is situated on just under one acre in a parklike setting. It is adjacent to the site of the West Stockbridge Farmers Market, and Brentano plans to have programs in conjunction with that. It is also near the TurnPark Art Space, a sculpture park.

Business Venture

While The Foundry’s primary mission is to support activities in the nonprofit sector, Brentano has set up its ownership and management as a small business. “I decided that would be the best way to keep the investment financially sustainable and enable it to support nonprofits,” she said. “I also don’t have any other investors because this allows me to have the flexibility to make decisions myself.” Brentano said The Foundry will rely on a combination of revenue sources, including rentals and user fees, ticket sales, commissions on art sales, and sales of beverages and other concessions at a bar being established in one section of the building. (In early May Brentano said she plans to apply for a full alcoholic beverage licence once renovations are complete and a Certificate of Occupancy has been obtained.) She added that her goal is to make The Foundry affordable and practical for organizations that use the facility. “The structure of agreements will vary,” she said. “In some cases, an organization may rent it on a straightforward lease agreement. In other situations, it may be combination of rental and portion of the ticket sales. It will be based on what works best in each situation.” In addition to events produced by other organizations, Brentano also plans to produce shows, such as concerts, and other events at The Foundry. She said it will also be available for rental for private events such as small weddings. Brentano said she will rely heavily on outside assistance for the gallery programming and operations. “Visual art is not my field, and I’m not familiar with how the art market works, so I’ll need help with that,” she said. “Fortunately, I have a sister in New York who is a professional artist, and she’s been assisting me.” Her sister, Pat Brentano, has her own work featured in the gallery’s inaugural exhibit, “Is There No Decency? Angry Faces, Dark Landscapes and Native Habitat,” which opened on March 8 and remains on display through June 15. Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or by appointment. Pat Brentano will also be leading Removing the Blinders, a two day visual awareness workshop at The Foundry on June 1-2 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. both days. The cost is $200. For information, email amy@thefoundryws.com. “I also hope to work with organizations like the Berkshire Artists Guild (an association of artists that is based in West Stockbridge) on that aspect,” she added. “I’d also like to have art exhibits that tie in with the theme of productions.” The Foundry will operate year-round. “There are many things that can be done throughout the year,” Brentano said. “For example, Pittsfield High School has an excellent chamber orchestra, and I’d love to have them perform here.” Brentano said that she has received many inquiries from potential users of the facility. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm about it, and the phone’s been ringing off the hook,” she said. She also sees The Foundry as a site for lighthearted uses. “In May and June we’re going to try sponsoring Morning Raves two days a week,” she said. “The idea is to offer a place where you can stop by in the morning to mingle, do some dancing, get your blood fl owing, and have a little fun before work.” These raves, or community dance parties, will be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7 to 8 a.m. from May 21 to June 6. The $5 charge per session will benefit Bazaar Productions/Berkshire Fringe. Those attending all six sessions will receive a free Berkshire Fringe T-shirt.

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