01 Jun BERKSHIRE MAGAZINE: A New Home for CATA
BERKSHIRE MAGAZINE (May/June 2022)
by Ashley Mysers / Photos by Jimmy ienner, Jr
(READ at BerkshireMag.com)
THE POSSIBILITIES ARE LIMITLESS IN THIS ARTS CENTER
WHEN ASCENDING the wide ramp to the entrance of Community Access to the Arts (CATA), you know you are more than welcome into their new home on Stockbridge Road in Great Barrington. With its calming deep blue and cheerful summer creamsicle hues, it is a building impossible to miss—even more impossible to resist. You’re drawn in, eager to see what lies inside.
Once through the front doors, you’ll find yourself in a hallway whose walls are painted a warm red, fitted with accessible high-low push buttons. Universal design— that is, designing a space that is accessible to everyone—was a priority when creating CATA’s new space, one crafted with intention and care for artists with disabilities. Just as every visitor comes through one entrance, those who use the elevator land at the same place as those taking the stairs. CATA Executive Director Margaret Keller describes this as one of the “subtleties of universal design.” Everyone belongs. Full stop.
CATA holds innovative workshops here, in-house—as well as at schools, day habilitation centers, local residences, and facilities for the elderly. Passionate experts teach painting, creative writing, dance, drumming, theater, and plenty of other art forms, so it’s no wonder there are more than 800 proud CATA artists. At its home base, art and writing workshops are held on the first floor’s visual arts and creative writing studio. It is a spacious room with six adjustable tables and glossy floors with dreamy strokes of gray. Brilliant natural light illuminates the space, changing as the day moves on and allowing for creativity to flourish.
“There’s something powerful for artists when they walk into a space like this, designed for them to create in these particular modalities,” Keller says. There is no question that this studio maximizes the creative process—a far cry from CATA’s former location, where every workshop took place in the same studio. It was a constant repurposing when it was time for yoga, then Shakespeare, then painting.
Behind an accordion door in the new studio is a smaller space dedicated to artists ready to serve their personal visions and experiment with the assistance of a mentor. Keller defines the mentor as “someone who is here, who is an artist to talk with them about where they see their project going, what media they might like to experiment with, and what supplies they might want to order.” For some, this transition from a group dynamic to a level of newfound independence can spark conversations about turning their delightful hobby into a full-fledged career.
Artwork created here is displayed in the halls and rooms of the new building, further emphasizing that CATA is a supportive space in all aspects, one where its artists shine. Lady Liberty, a complexly layered painting by Katrina Couture, calls for attention on the far wall of the visual arts and creative writing studio. (The work was featured in our Spring issue’s “Art of it.”) Couture travels from Williamstown to Great Barrington once a week to paint. Artistic Realization Technologies (A.R.T.) was the technique used to bring Lady Liberty to life—a laser pointer to show her tracker where to move the brush on canvas. The tracker is, in fact, a tool for her to actualize her vision.
In the conference room, a collaborative art piece is prominently displayed. This was created by a massive sheet of paper that was put on the floor for CATA artists to paint using brooms. You can even spot the mark of a wheelchair tread streaking the paper. It is rich with textures, illustrating the beauty in playing with form. A painter doesn’t need a brush to create a masterpiece.
Upstairs, there is the dance and performing arts studio, fitted with sprung floors. It is another spectacularly lit space—from artificial lights in the exposed rafters to a gorgeous Palladian window facing the roofs and treetops across the parking lot. “When the trees were in bloom, one of our CATA artists said that it looked like a treehouse,” says Keller.
Outside the dance and performing arts studio is a feature unique to the new location: a cozy lounge complete with a kitchenette for those who want to eat lunch or make some coffee. “When we were designing this space, we were thinking about the staff, but we also really were thinking about where our artists would go in-between workshops,” Keller explains. “It’s a small but meaningful space. We’ve never had anything like it before.” It’s also convenient for caregivers who used to go somewhere else to wait while their CATA artist was in workshops. Now they can enjoy the lounge while their artist has their independent experience nearby.
There is also a parking lot instead of street parking, and a universally accessible entrance and lift instead of a lift exposed to the elements at the old location. CATA’s previous building adjoined a movie theatre, making maintaining concentration difficult and classes like yoga less zen.
Another noteworthy feature of CATA’s new location is the expansive upstairs bathroom, which includes a Hoyer lift and an adult changing table. “When we were designing the building, we were reaching out to all of our partners to really understand their needs for physical space,” Keller says. “One of the stories that we heard that really struck us was about some of our artists with profound physical disabilities, and how they were limited in the Berkshires. They could be in their residence, and they could be in their day habilitation program, and there weren’t many other places that they could go to in Berkshire County because there weren’t adequate toileting facilities.” Keller and her team looked at their preliminary design and completely altered the layout of the second floor just to make room for this extra-large, extra-accessible bathroom.
With 50 program partners, CATA has no shortage of friends in the Berkshires. Artwork by CATA artists has been showcased in galleries throughout the region, including Berkshire Botanical Garden’s Leonhardt Galleries in Stockbridge, the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts in Pittsfield, and the Good Purpose Gallery in Lee. Another exciting exhibition is coming up at the Clark Art Institute’s Lunder Center in Williamstown from July 2 through September 5, centralized around the notion of “the ability within disability.”
Shakespeare and Company hosts CATA’s 2022 gala on May 7, the theme being “AND,” a simple word CATA has fully embraced and embodied this year, promoting inclusion and limitless avenues for creative exploration and expression. It is not this or that, it’s this and that. At the gala, a brand new CATA film will premiere, and the film will be showcased at a virtual gala on May 21.