Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Public Service

This is spelled differently and was cancelled. Not the same thing AT ALL.New Bedfidgians will be happy to know that tonight's AHA! is still scheduled to kick off at 5 pm. The much-celebrated (and often poorly-imitated) monthly celebration of downtown businesses and lifestyle choices dodged the "Winter storm and parking ban" bullet once again, due to the fact that AHA! has special magical powers.
Tonight's theme (close as it is to the beginning of Lent without actually touching it) is CARNEVALE! (The exclamation point is mandatory and must be accompanied by an upthrust index finger in order to effectuate the enthusiastic intent.)
The spelling of CARNEVALE! you'll recognize as the Portuguese Brazilian one and includes the "carne" that means "meat," illustrating the last time before Easter that the faithful are allowed to eat or show their meat publicly in certain parts of the Roman Catholic Empire, which explains this: A little song, a little dance......a little George Clinton's shiny pants sort of thing.
Although tonight's AHA! festivities promise beads, do not expect anything comparable to New Orleans' raucous bead trade:

'I'd like pink ones. I already have blue ones!' I heard somebody shout.

In fact, it'll probably look a little more like this:Right here. Convent San Tanco. There, I could fly. In the interest of full disclosure, let me be clear about my relationship to AHA! and why I may, to casual observers, seem to mock the monthly second Thursday events. These events bring thousands of people to downtown New Bedford and put a real face on the area's Creative Economy. According to a 2007 UMass-Dartmouth Center for Policy Analysis ... er, analysis and program evaluation, every dollar that AHA! gets from grants generates nine dollars for the local economy and AHA! partners. I imagine that the most recent numbers are more impressive. For a community effort that isn't even supported by its City Council and rarely thanked for its organization of special occasions, AHA! does more continuing good for the city of New Bedford than Herman Melville.

We are related by marriage.


Karie said...


It is going to be a great night, too.

Carol said...

There has been one of these in every city in which I've lived. NB's is different in that it is funded by some city tax dollars (as well as state and other grants), and is not run by the Chamber of Commerce, as they often are. It is set up as a marketing cooperative for stores, organizations, and events. We downtowners (including store owners) questioned the UMass study. It doesn't make sense. It's not that I'm negative, it's just important we use real information so we know what value proposition we're truly dealing with. NB promoters, for example, often misstate NB's happenings and appealing points, which robs us of the opportunity to state NB's actual value proposition, so we can build on that and attract the people to whom that value will be compelling.

PJ said...

Now. Carol, you know that I rarely use "real information."

Oh snap! You didn't think that I was extolling AHA! because it's a regular townie event, did you? Some towns have forthrightly imitated and credited New Bedford's AHA! to one degree or another. (Gallery night, waterfire, art in park, downtown ramble, city festival... AHA! is certainly not NB's idea. It works in NB because the participants are hardcore NewBedgians who have learned to ignore the whingers and bean counters.)

AHA! promotes 50 or 60 businesses and individuals every month, is erroneously identified as a city department, has to seek the same state funding as the city, is not supported and has been reproved on record by the City Council, has been derided publicly by employees of the NBEDC, is a loose confederation of people who think that it's a good idea, and it's burlesqued by online journallers like me.

If I'm wasting blog space here on AHA! when I should be poking fun at some other more apt and deserving SouthCoast feature, please inform me. I haven't gotten out much this Winter due to a broken toe. Perhaps I've missed something of value.

Karie said...

Carol: Numbers of participants are collected from the AHA! partners. You are correct - they are a mix that includes commercial businesses. Also non-profit businesses, our National Park, public schools, churches, and with investment from the City, a State grant, as well as support from private foundations, many business sponsors and one fundraising event a year. Each week AHA!'s 2 part-time staff do the work of coordinating everything to make the year round activity an ongoing reality. The donations of goods and services by partners and supporters propel every month’s event. Partners make activities happen at their own venues, dozens and dozens of people volunteer every month. It is a huge endeavor, 10+ years in the making, and as a grassroots effort of downtown stakeholders I believe everyone should be extremely proud of it. We started with 14 partners and now have over 60, plus an additional 28 community programming groups. And our Steering Committee includes invested individuals from the community, as well. Downtown now has REGULAR visitors. 10 years ago, NOT so much!

I have personally stood outside during events counting, and (at separate times) gathering survey information from attendees, as a volunteer. The data gathered from UMASS Center for Policy Analysis are as good as you can get from any entity that does that kind of work. And it is hard work. I am not sure how you, personally, measure information as "real," or why you would question these numbers.

I am also perplexed by your first sentence - "There has been one of these in every city in which I've lived." I've lived in a few places, too. I have seen efforts at community collaborations in a variety of forms, in a number of states, but none came close to producing the results AHA! has produced. And I have seen the data and experienced the efforts of other Commonwealth communities. Massachusetts Cultural Council, the state’s arts and culture agency, sees AHA!’s work in New Bedford as one of the very top projects in the state, and many others have used AHA! as a model. I can say with confidence that it is among the top of its kind in the nation. AHA! is not just a run-of-the-mill "gallery night."

What is it that you, Carol, are really looking for? Since you seem to be a person who is invested in the downtown community (and AHA! is a DOWNTOWN effort, not a promoter of NB overall - that is the job of other entities), I would honestly like to know. Legitimate (as in "real") input and concerns from community members, visitors, and stakeholders like you is always welcomed by AHA! Criticism is only worthwhile if it is constructive, so if you have something to say, please bring it to us directly. And, I would hope, in the spirit of wanting to act on making improvements.

Thirdmate: Thank you, again, for your publicity ("public service" as you aptly titled it) here on the Impossible Journal! This is a wonderful example of how people in the community can make a difference by supporting the efforts by helping to spread the word about the positive happenings in our city’s center.

karie said...

"are" not "is"