(NORTH ADAMS, Mass.) – Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) will present the premiere screening of Farewell to Factory Towns? on Tuesday, April 17, 2012, at 7 p.m. in Murdock Hall room 218. The documentary, about how art replaced manufacturing as the economic backbone of North Adams, was written and directed by former MCLA sociology professor Dr. Maynard Seider, professor emeritis at the College.
Farewell to Factory Towns? focuses on North Adams, which was built with the help of immigrants from Europe and French Canada. It once boasted a thriving textile industry, and, from the 1930s to the ’80s, North Adams was home to Sprague Electric Company, the world’s largest producer of capacitors.
In 1999, the former location of Sprague opened its doors as Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), which is visited by approximately 120,000 each year. However, according to Seider, the nearby downtown is “semi-deserted.”
“This raises one of the key questions of the documentary, ‘Can Art Save North Adams?’ And if not, what needs to be done?” says Seider. “To answer that question, the film looks at the role that the New Deal played in North Adams and raises the need for a new ‘New Deal,’ powered by grass-roots social movements.”
The documentary features interviews with labor activists, artists new to the community, local historians, the last CEO of Sprague Electric, high school students, the mayor of North Adams, the director of MASS MoCA and the director of the UMass Labor Center.
While the focus is on one former factory town, the film is framed in the context of the problems faced by all former manufacturing centers. To that end, the documentary includes footage of deindustrialization in Youngstown, Buffalo and Detroit, as well as data pointing out the circumstances those cities share with North Adams, according to Seider.
The documentary was edited by Zeke Meginsky ’09, and narrated by Court Dorsey. It was filmed by Meginsky, MCLA Television Studio Manager Peter Gentile and Dr. Michael Birch, an English/communications professor at the College. The film was co-produced by Seider and AmherstMedia.org.
The premiere screening is free and open to the public. Those who attend the screening are asked to bring a non-perishable food item to help fight hunger in Berkshire County. The making of the film was co-sponsored by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, with funds administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. It was inspired by the April 4th Coalition.
The screening will be followed by a panel discussion, to be moderated by historian Stewart Burns. The panel will include Anne French, service learning coordinator at Drury High School, MCLA business professor Dr. Nancy Ovitsky, and Gail Bobin ’98, an MCLA alumna who has worked in a number of Berkshire County factories.
In addition, live music will be performed at this screening event by Alice Spatz, who provided original music for the film, and her group, Wintergreen.
To view a film trailer, go here.