Love Letter to Great Barrington MA

Just this morning in the shower, I was mulling over what I would like to write about for my submission to this year’s Made in the Berkshires Festival, and it came to me that I want to write a kind of love letter to Great Barrington, the dear little town that I call home.

What a surprise to get to my media studies class today and learn from my students that dear little Great Barrington was just named the number one small town in America by no less than Smithsonian Magazine!

Railroad Street, Great Barrington MA

In justifying their choice, Smithsonian writers Susan Spano and Aviva Shen cite the town’s hip cultural scene, its local foodie economy, complete with CSAs and farmers’ markets, denizens of note like W.E.B. DuBois, Arlo Guthrie and Alan Chartock, and the fact that we have our own printed currency, the BerkShare.

Even my own alma mater and current employer, Bard College at Simon’s Rock, gets a mention!  We are, after all, the first and still the only residential four-year college dedicated exclusively to highly motivated students who choose to leave high school early, after 10th or 11th grade, to begin their undergraduate studies.

In my dreamy early-morning shower reflections, I was thinking about celebrating other aspects of Great Barrington.

For instance, the incredible camaraderie of the cultural community here, especially, in my experience, the community of women artists.

Berkshire Festival of Women Writers special presentation of Made in the Berkshires, co-curated by Hilary Somers Deely and Barbara Sims

I have led, participated in and witnessed so many outstanding cultural events here in the Berkshires, many of them centered in Great Barrington, where artists, writers and other creative types have collaborated with such grace and panache, with such incredible generosity and unusual willingness to leave their own personal ego at home.

This doesn’t happen everywhere.  In fact, I’d venture to guess it’s pretty rare.

For instance, almost everyone who participated in this year’s Second Annual Berkshire Festival of Women Writers did so pro bono, offering free events at which they shared their passions and talents with all comers.

As one of nearly 100 women who gave a Festival workshop for free, I can tell you that there is tremendous satisfaction to be gained from simply sharing one’s talents and knowledge with an appreciative, receptive audience, without expecting financial reward.

That spirit of generosity is one of the many reasons I love living in Great Barrington.

The Smithsonian article also failed to mention a few other aspects of Great Barrington that I really love.

One: having town leaders, our elected Select Board, who are vibrant creative folks in their own right.  Check out Selectperson Alana Chernila, who just published a wonderful cookbook, or Selectperson Andrew Blechman, editor at our homegrown national environmental publication Orion Magazine, or Selectperson Sean Stanton, part of an extraordinary local family of sustainable farmers and foodie entrepreneurs—and you will see what I mean.

Atop Monument Mountain

Two: the wonderful natural resources at our doorstep in Great Barrington.  The Housatonic River winds through the town, and polluted with PCBs as it may be (thank you General Electric), the Housatonic is still visually beautiful and a lovely, peaceful river to walk beside on our very own Riverwalk.  The town is shadowed by East Mountain, the north side of which houses our ski area, Butternut Basin.  On the north side we are bounded by Monument Mountain, a steep, wooded reserve that got its name from the Mohicans who used to live here, who left their signature on the mountain in piles of stones.  All over town there are beautiful places to walk, hike and meditate.  This kind of open space is quickly vanishing in so much of our country, and should not be taken for granted.

Three: Having a community that truly cares about its young people, and its disadvantaged folks.  The support for wonderful local organizations like Railroad Street Youth ProjectCommunity Access to the Arts, and Volunteers in Medicine is truly heartwarming.  We also have a lively Senior Center, and a weekly Occupy Great Barrington protest and meet-up.  A town that doesn’t forget its kids, its old folks, its most vulnerable citizens and its radical fringe is the kind of town I want to live in.

And not only that, but we have our very own community radio station, WBCR-LP, 97.7 FM, where anyone who makes the effort to get the requisite training can become an autonomous radio broadcaster, subject only to FCC regulations as to what they can or cannot announce.  This year I started a new Citizen Journalism Project, seeking to get local teens involved in producing news for the radio–and it’s been a great success.  We also still have a homegrown local weekly newspaper in Great Barrington, the Berkshire Record–which is pretty rare in the US, as more and more local newspapers are swallowed up by big media clones.

The Smithsonian Magazine description of Great Barrington was right on target, but there is also so much more that goes into being part of a truly outstanding small town.

I will write a longer love letter to Great Barrington in the future, but for today, let me just end with a big smacking kiss.  GB, I am proud to call you home.

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