VIEW: The Old City is New Again

New Bedford Standard Times Editorial
A woman living in one of New Bedford’s senior high-rises got all excited a few years ago when she told a Standard-Times reporter about the way things used to be downtown. She didn’t live in the city center back then, but she spent plenty of time there as she was coming of age — meeting girlfriends and “fellows,” admiring the clothes in the shop windows and going to dances. Those dances were the place to be.
Last night as AHA! — the city’s monthly arts and culture night — marked its 100th incarnation, the reinvention of New Bedford, too, started coming of age.
The changes happening downtown will not replicate what the city was 50 years ago, and that’s OK. Indeed, they shouldn’t. The world is very different now, and different things draw people to the heart of a city — things like the exhibit of antique motorcycles at the Tatlock Gallery, the creative activities for kids at the Whaling Museum and ArtWorks!, and new exhibits at the New Bedford Art Museum and myriad other galleries and studios.
AHA! Nights, the product of a task force that grew out of the Regional Community Congress in 1999, have organized the arts community so effectively that AHA!, coupled with the Star Store arts campus of UMass Dartmouth, has made arts and culture the driving force of downtown renewal.
With the new life downtown has come another hallmark of a bustling city: great places to eat. New Bedford is the region’s best spot to find hip independent cafes, upscale restaurants, and most recently, two new wine bars.
A year ago this month, the Boston Globe said the city’s galleries were “a barometer of a community on the ascendancy.” But the broader arts community isn’t just measuring the weather; they’re making it.
Nelson Hockert-Lotz, a member of the AHA! Steering Committee and tireless supporter of the city, says AHA! Nights remind him of WaterFire in Providence — a favorable comparison for sure. He reports that 11 other communities around the state are using AHA! as a template for their own events.
Wood sculptor John Magnan, one of the founders of AHA!, says it has surpassed all expectations. How true. Maybe it’s time the region raised its expectations of New Bedford. With groups like AHA! in the city, we won’t be disappointed.
October 12, 2007

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