Notes from Upstate New York - February 2018
This really is beautiful country. I started my trip driving South West from my home in Maine down to the ole familiar Mass Pike. I'm heading toward the Hudson River Valley to visit with a PEG Access colleague and friend in Tivoli, NY, and then on to visit with some PEG Activists in the Albany region. But first, I've got a little extra time and have decided to veer off the busy turn-pike and head northwest on Rt. 2 for a visit to one of Massechusettes more interesting PEG Access facilities. The roads suddenly begin to curve around the foothills of the Berkshires and I take a roadside coffee break to stretch and set my Google Maps app for 246 College Street Amherst, former home of the regional Power Company, and present home of Amherst Media.
I'm totally enjoying this brief February thaw as I stand beside my car doing stretches and gazing into the beautiful woods of Western Mass. I've left the piles of snow back in Maine and there is a lovely Southern breeze kicking the sunny day's temperatures up into the high 50's. Take a deep breath.
The Amherst Media Center is located in a former art-deco cement building near the bustling downtown. I still remember driving down here from Maine in the early 1990's when this facility was first converted to a media center for the community of Amherst. Local access organizations are always looking for inexpensive housing and this was an interesting take on using an existing structure to create a new home for the community PEG program. It's been over twenty-five years now and as I walked through the comfortable confines of this old building I could see why Amherst is looking to move-on and find a new home. Plans are on the table for a new media center to be built on a lot right in the downtown area, but there is some resistence to the idea of taking up valuable town green-space for this use and the staff of Media Arts will have to continue working with local officials to find the right solution. Thanks to Nick Ring and Joe Ameur for showing me around.
I left Amherst around noon and headed West down the Mohawk Trail en route to Pittsfield, MA. PCTV is another successful PEG access station managed by Shawn Serre. The PCTV facility is located in an industrial park in a building that was originally used by the adjacent cable company. A few years ago PCTV expanded their footprint into this space and currently house two studios (one with a new cooking set and robotics-cameras for recording small meetings), editing suites, an impressive Master Control and two remote production trucks ready to roll into their community for live event coverage. These two facilities, Amherst and PCTV, literally a 45 min. drive from one another in Western Massachusetts, certainly look different from the outside. But watch some of the programming being produced and distributed by these two PEG non-profit organizations and you'll see a common thread; a commitment to providing access to our evolving television technology as a means for fostering local communication and documentation of our lives, and our communities.
It's so cool to see these Community Media Centers surviving and thriving in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains. Having visited both of these facilities over twenty years ago when I first moved to the Northeast from Michigan, I can see the strength of the non-profit management model for PEG Access at work. People getting involved in their communities and working to assure that these important local entities continue to survive, and adapt, as we all try to understand the role this powerful television medium will play in our lives.