Ashfield , MA

Contact Name
Matthew Glassman
Project Dates
June 3 and 4, 2017
Event, Workforce Development
The Ashfield Town Spectacle and Culture Fair is an upcoming production that will use the whole town as the set, the entire history of the town as the subject, and the community as the performers. A celebration of tolerance, courage, and the choices we make to maintain our freedom, the story will be defined by the dynamic spirit of the land, the elaboration of its beauty, and the visceral freedom of its inhabitants. This project has been built on a decade of artistic exploration and relationship building with the Town of Ashfield, and will engage a wealth of cross sector partners in its creation. This spectacle will be a one of a kind creative placemaking exercise and will be offered free to the general public.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
The Ashfield Town Spectacle is designed to celebrate and engage the local and rural Hilltowns in an exploration of the history and ethos of the area. We are seeking to unite diverse sectors in a celebration of our cultural heritage and the common strands of history that bind us together. We’d like to explore and elucidate questions like, “What makes a community, a community? What forces bind us together? What forces threaten to tear us apart?

This project was designed to utilize the relationships Double Edge has been carefully building with the town of Ashfield, as well as our knowledge of creating immersive, outdoor, site-specific work, and unite these two factors to create something utterly unique; something that payed homage to our hometown while retaining a clear Double Edge aesthetic.

The shape of the project includes a half day’s worth of activities on both June 3 and 4, beginning in the afternoon and spread throughout the day. These activities will range from oral storytelling to contra dancing, to stilt walking, to a town hall style debate, and culminate in a giant parade up main street. This project will showcase a creative economy, incorporating talents and contributions from throughout Ashfield, and demonstrate what we believe is a national model for rural artistic synergy with place.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
As we worked with the town of Ashfield we realized that we wanted to make a work that would speak to everyone. While we want this work to be incredibly place-specific, we don’t want it be just for locals. How can our story, honed and calibrated to uplift everything that makes Ashfield special, also be a vehicle for others to fall in love with their own communities? Another goal we discovered was the desire to incorporate the diverse talents and stories of our town residents into the show. To this end we have been refining systems to accommodate the wealth of information that we have been receiving from the town, and to integrate the various artistic gifts that our patrons have offered up. Another emergent goals has been responding to this current political moment. How can it be relevant to all that’s happening in our political sphere?
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
The Town of Ashfield through the Ashfield Select Board - Working with the select board we have secured permits as well as sought to unite diverse sectors of the town.
The Ashfield Historical Society - The AHS has been instrumental in connecting the ensemble to various artifacts, sociological, and anthropological findings, and stories for dramatization.
The Ashfield Business Association has worked on cross-promotional efforts, and integrating various commercial efforts into the show.
Elmer’s Store is serving as one of the locations for the show as well as a producer.
The Ashfield Lakehouse is serving as one of the locations for the show.
The Ashfield local artist contingent has been contributing creatively to the show’s development.
The tradespeople of the community have been contributing to the show through their own unique mediums and we are looking to integrate as many as possible into the final product.
The Ashfield Farmer’s Market will be a part of the show.
The Council on Aging has been working with us as we look to connect to our elder community.
The local school system has been working with us as we seek to involve participants of all ages in the production.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
We are working closely with the town to coordinate our efforts with overarching community development strategies. We believe that when communities see themselves represented positively, and when various groups are able to coordinate in celebrations of place, this spurs positive growth. The festival will also attract a large amount of new visitors to the town over the course of the two days the Town Spectacle is staged, and the proceeding months where it will be remounted and adapted on our farm center. Our spectacles provide a revenue driver for the town of Ashfield, and the visibility of the Town Spectacle will serve to uplift and highlight all the incredible gifts our community has to offer.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
We have taken inspiration from Argentinian street performances and festival traditions such as Mardi Gras as passed on by our Co-Artistic Director, Carlos Uriona. This will be our own version of these festivals and will incorporate the same combination of civic participation and social responsiveness. We also have drawn inspiration from the Norwegian project, Sense of Place, as well as our own recent touring to city centers. In our previous projects we have tried to interweave the specific history of the community being engaged. In this iteration we will be uniting our origin with the next step in our artistic development.
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
We have been working with the town through a series of Open Community Sessions. At these community sessions we invite the town to engage in the creation of the show, welcoming them to try any of our various disciplines including bungee jumping, stilt walking, dancing, and object work. We also invite participants to share various histories and anecdotes about the town of Ashfield and record these stories for use in the show.

We have been meeting with the Ashfield Historical Society to review select time periods in the town’s history and to give the ensemble inspiration to create.

We have been meeting with local historian and former Selectman, Don Robinson. During these sessions we review the recent history of Ashfield as well as field question about the town’s functioning.

Going forward we will continue holding dialogues around the history of Ashfield with the town, as well as holding rehearsals where we will involve the townspeople in the upcoming pieces as they evolve.
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
We’ve created a system for processing the histories that we are currently gathering. Because Double Edge is a large ensemble with an organic relationship to the town, many of us find ourselves find ourselves in informal conversations that garner large amounts of information that could be useful to the Town Spectacle. In order to make sure none of this valuable work is lost, we’ve created a standardized form that can be filled out anytime information comes up pertaining to the show. These forms are then collected and collated by one of the show’s directors, and sorted for future use.

In addition, the goals and intent of the show are ever evolving with the input of the town. Double Edge devises its work over long stretches of time and by interweaving various source materials. Each of the discussions initiated through our Open Community Session has the potential to shift the flow of the show’s final narrative.

We’ve found that it also benefits the process to organize the show spatially. To that end, we’ve created a large map of the town that is on one of the walls of our barn where rehearsals take place. Ensemble members are welcome to post sticky notes in any of the various locations where the show will take place. These sticky notes might have a theme, an idea, or a historical personage they’d like to explore. This helps us see the final product as it forms in real time.
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
The main obstacle was whether or not we had the capacity to undertake such an ambitious project. This sort of large undertaking necessitated that our infrastructure, communications, and external relationships be working to maximum effect. In addition, we needed more time for the artists to be able to dedicate to their creative practices rather than administrative tasks. The other obstacle we faced was working across disparate sectors of the town that are typically siloed.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
To ensure capacity, we’ve undergone facilities renovations in recent years to make unused farm buildings on our property operational for production use. This frees up space for rehearsal, designers, and hosting of community gatherings. We also hired administrative staff this year, a new addition for DE, to enable the artists more time for creation. To work across sectors we partnered with entities such as the Ashfield Select Board and the Ashfield Business Association, groups that can help build bridges and identify common interests to leverage positive relationships.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1. Take all the time you need. These kind of relationships don’t develop overnight and there is no cookie cutter approach. This project is possible at this point in Double Edge’s history because of relationships that have been established through repeated cultivation and long-standing trust built on person to person relationships

2.Be a good host. Each time we invite the community into our home, it’s an opportunity to cement a bond. Offer food, offer art, offer generosity of spirit. These interactions where the community intersects the work, no matter how small, will resonate long after the event concludes.

3. Understand yourself. We occupy a very unique place in our community, and seeing ourselves in relation to other entities in our ecosystem has been key to the success of this endeavor. Also knowing limitations and areas for growth; knowing how to maintain a balance between challenge and opportunity.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
Though this project is far from finished, already we can feel an excitement in the town about its potentialities. In our patrons we’ve seen a renewed excitement for the town’s history and mythology, and a pride in our local identity. The open community sessions have opened the door to Double Edge’s process of creation, and we can see people are more engaged in the work as a result. We are anticipating an increased influx in revenue for the town, June through August, as a result of this project. For the two days the show is performed in the town we anticipate thousands of attendees who will experience all the town has to offer. Following this we will continue to host the show on Double Edge’s Farm Center, drawing individuals from New York, Boston and beyond.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
We will consider the project successful if participants can feel that the show reflects their area’s history, and their place within it. For participants from outside the town we want them to discover a place of wonder and encounter Ashfield in a way they might never have anticipated before. We want them to identify Ashfield as an area rich in history and culture with a distinct identity that they want to visit again and again. We want to uplift Ashfield and Double Edge’s mutual growth as a model for rural artistic development, and for this to spur investment in the arts in other rural communities.
How did you measure this success or progress?
1. The number of participants comprising the audience for the two day spectacle
2. The number of participants comprising the audience for the summer adaptation.
3. The number of participants reached by education and outreach efforts.
4. The responses collected, both written and oral, during the run of the programming and the rehearsal process as collated by program staff.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
The most unexpected result has been the show’s emergent relationship with our political climate. By exploring the forces that comprises a community, and Ashfield’s unique history of progressivism, we have engaged the national conversation on division and identity. In response the show seeks to responsibly place Ashfield and its civic role within the larger picture into relief. Double Edge is rooted in a progressive idealism that values many of the liberties that are currently being threatened and we will seek to interweaves an expression of this within our work.