Sometimes the most effective change happens quietly, with little fanfare and even less money. When you notice, it’s often called an “aha moment.”
Over the past two-and-a-half years, AHA! Fall River has been providing a range of activities and services to the community, while supporting and showcasing the regional arts community. This year may prove to be their aha moment.
“I do feel there’s an excitement about the arts now,”said Sandy Dennis. She, along with her husband Dave, has been coordinating the Arts-History-Architecture (AHA) efforts in Fall River since 2014.
“It’s brought a sense of family,” she continued, adding that people anticipate the events. She sees parents and kids taking part in activities ranging from quality music programs to paint nights that many of them could not afford otherwise.
“We’re expanding their minds and filling a void,” Sandy noted. This is especially true in the teen and tween demographics, which are often hard to reach. For them, “Artist’s Alley,” a creative area on Old Second Street, is most often the draw.
Unlike AHA! New Bedford, which offers events on the second thursday of every month in the downtown of that city, AHA! Fall River puts on programs four times a year, usually on the third thursday of April, July, September, and November.
In-between these free public extravaganzas downtown (usually around Purchase, Bedford, and North Main streets), they will hold special events. For example, in March, an 18-piece big band performed at the Eagle Event Center. Professional dancers were hired to teach simple steps and storyboards told the history of the building that was designed to look like the inside of a Fall River Line ship.
Some of these special events also serve as fundraisers. The Block Island Ferry Cruise will
hopefully be held again this year, and the Second Annual Festival of Trees more than doubled the number of trees entered into competition from the inaugural event.
“It really created some camaraderie,” Sandy said, explaining that businesses, schools, police, politicians, and others decorated trees for the holiday event. It was so successful, they are considering a similar opportunity in the fall.
The April AHA! Night will be held, as usual, on the third Thursday of the month. On April 20, the theme is “We’re Having a Party!” to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Braga Bridge. Watch for a big party, including a balloon bridge and other entertainment.
May 13 will bring the 15th century alive in a special program at the Eagle Event Center called “Dance of the Dragon Queen,” inspired by Game of Thrones. For $25, participants will eat a period meal, take part in an interactive theatre experience, enjoy a ball, and participate in a costume contest. Guests are encouraged to dress in their best 15th century attire.
The script for the audience participation event is being developed by Mastermind Adventures, a group of creative individuals who operate a space in the Swansea Mall. They provide educational roleplaying events, a board game lounge, Nerf wars, and other active playing events. In addition, there’s a “Fan Club” space where groups can meet up informally, and a variety of other programs. They have a lot of experience creating Harry Potter- and Game of Thrones-inspired activities.
Other upcoming events include a fashion show by decade. Beginning with the 1940s, fashion, music, and history from each decade will be woven together in a narrative spotlighting Fall River’s reputation as the “Spindle City.”
“The intent is to highlight the textile industry,” Dave said.
This event will be held at the Venus de Milo in Swansea and will include storyboard cards on tables during the show and an opportunity to mingle with the models over coffee and pastries while solo musicians perform after the event.
Dave pointed out that a state earmark of $75,000 will help fund some of these events. In addition, the money will support a “Rockumentary” with young musicians and a “whimsical fairytale event” at the Eagle Event Center.
Later this year, look for a Music Festival at the UMass Dartmouth Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), formerly the Advanced Technology Manufacturing Center (ATMC), on Martine Street. Although the AHA team is still working on the schedule, it could include a laser light show over South Watuppa Pond.
“It should be a fun day,” Dave said.
Supporting the Arts
AHA! Fall River is run by volunteers through its Steering Committee. Cultural organizations outside of the downtown area are also invited to participate and to be a guest venue.
In addition to the state earmark, according to the group’s website AHA! Fall River is “funded in part by The Fall River Cultural Council, local business community sponsorship, individual donors and partner venue dues.” It is officially a 501c3 nonprofit project of The Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts.
“Every penny spent goes back into the community,” Sandy stressed.
In addition to providing a venue for artists, musicians, and other creative folks, AHA! Fall River prides itself on helping new musicians by giving them a stage or allowing new directors to stage a production.
“It’s a launching pad for a lot of artists,” Dave said, explaining that new talent can participate at no cost and take advantage of AHA! advertising. In some cases, AHA! is able to pay for special projects.
Area businesses also benefit. For example, a restaurant may provide a location for a musician, but guests often will buy drinks or meals. This supports what is often called the “creative economy.”
A Community Resource
In addition to programming, the AHA! website includes a community calendar of events, and also shares places to eat, shops to explore, historic sites to visit, and much more. There are lists of tours, museums, recreation spots, and places to stay.
Even for a longtime Fall River area resident, the website provides some surprises. There are a number of bed and breakfasts in the area, and even a list of monuments and who they honor.
Under resources, there’s a range of opportunities. Companies can provide internship information, and an artist intake form allows talented folks to post their creative skills. The goal is to develop a comprehensive inventory of artists.
Vendors can download the legal forms necessary to operate at events, and visitors can fill
surveys to share their ideas about how AHA! Fall River is doing.
“It’s really been a good resource for the community,” Sandy suggested, adding, “We’ve really elevated art and culture in the city.”
They hope to expand their role as a resource to travelers and locals alike even more when they move into their new space at 385 Columbia Street. In addition to serving as a working office, Dave hopes it will become a fountain of information where people can pick up posters for events, buy tickets, and get directions to places in a city that’s not known for its easy access.
“We’re always trying to refine what we do,” Dave said, but agreed with Sandy that 2017 will be the best year ever.
“You’ll see some of the product of our growth,” she promised. For more information visit ahafallriver.com or like their Facebook page, AHA in Fall River.