Berkshire Lightscapes Illuminates Colonial Theatre

July 9, 2021 :

PITTSFIELD — The Colonial Theatre was bathed in multiple hues on Wednesday night, as about 80 people gathered to celebrate the completion of Phase 1 of the public art installation by Berkshire Lightscapes.

The LED lights on the front facade of the theater were accompanied by video projections made by featured artist Joe Wheaton on the south-facing wall of the building.

The outdoor light scenes have been installed on several other downtown buildings including City Hall and the former First Agricultural Bank building. As part of Phase 1, lights are also being installed on the Barrington Stage Company's Wolfson Center.

This is part of an effort to illuminate prominent buildings and spaces in the downtown with the goal of transforming and bringing new energy to the area after dark. The colorful, vibrant light installations feature state-of-the-art LED systems that can be remotely programmed for effect and animation.

Berkshire Lightscapes was launched in 2018 by Elie Hammerling, who passed away in July 2020 at the age of 79. The event was held in his honor.

"One of the things I cherish about Elie, in particular, is that no matter where I was when I ran into him, I instantly felt happy, I instantly felt loved. I instantly felt smarter," Mayor Linda Tyer said.

"He came into my office with this idea about doing 'lightscapes,' and I'd known him for a while by that time and I said, 'anything for you, Elie. Anything for you because you are one of the best humans I have ever met.'"  

MassDevelopment awarded the project a $50,000 grant from its Commonwealth Places Program that had to be matched by private donations. Within three months, a total of $52,000 was raised locally from 137 businesses and individuals.

The program was first applied to City Hall with Dunham Mall following and, most recently, Sottile and Persip plazas over the underpass on North Street were lit up.

The First Agricultural building and the historic Shipton buildings on North Street — which are owned by private entities — have also received a beautification with light.

At a reception before the lighting ceremony led by Berkshire Lightscapes President Peter Lafayette, speakers gave emotional testimonies about Hammerling and his dedication to the project as well as the city as a whole.   

His son, Eric Hammerling, was in attendance with his grandson Mateo.

"As you know, my dad loved this community and dedicated countless hours as a volunteer for many years to help with various efforts to add to the considerable charm and potential, the downtown Pittsfield," Hammerling said.

"He was an active promoter of the arts, culture, and creative spirit of the Berkshires, and he brought positivity light playfulness, and legitimate joy into all of his efforts."

His father metaphorically glowed with pride when talking about Berkshire Lightscapes, he said and is currently beaming with happiness "wherever his spirit is cosmically" while watching his work prosper.  

"Light was very important to my dad, personally," Hammerling explained. "Over the last several years, my dad found a way every winter to go somewhere with my mom where they could recharge their personal batteries with some warmer weather and extra light through direct experience, he knew how important light was to his life and it became his mission to share that light with others."

State Sen. Adam Hinds and state Rep. Tricia Farley Bouvier also spoke on their relationships with Hammerling.

"I've had the fortune of living across from Elie and (his wife) Myrna the last seven years, and it's been, getting chills to say it's been one of the most profound experiences of my life, and I'm not overstating," Hinds said.

"So, we heard the initiation of the idea, right from the start and get the updates in the elevator from Elie and kind of get the 'here's what we need next' pitch, and it's been great to watch that development and see it, because we're downtown to see each step of the way, so today, tonight, seeing this piece is going to be meaningful as well."

Hinds said it is valuable that tourism is being integrated with the arts and beauty within Pittsfield.

Farley-Bouvier asked attendees to smile every time they see one of these installations. She also asked that viewers allow themselves to be inspired for the next great idea by the pieces and to get involved in a group that brings people together.

"From the very beginning of time, lights have inspired us and light has brought us together," she added.

Berkshire Lightscapes anticipates working with more building owners to install light installations on facades.

The video projection program will run through the summer and fall months. Original videos can be submitted through the Berkshire Art Association and will be selected by a jury of artists to be shown on the Colonial's wall.