HANCOCK – The pandemic has brought more changes to Berkshire County’s cultural attractions than mere safety restrictions.
Leaders of local culture and tourism organizations say they’ve started seeing younger visitors, more year-round traffic, more digital guests, and more interest in outdoor recreation.
They detailed the changes Tuesday in a meeting with members of the state legislature’s committee on tourism, the arts and cultural development.
All four of the state representatives from Berkshire County, as well as leaders of arts and culture groups statewide, attended the rally at Hancock Shaker Village.
In 2019, visitors spent $ 554 million in the Berkshires, supported more than 4,400 local jobs and generated $ 29 million and $ 6 million, respectively, in state and local taxes, according to the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism.
“There is often criticism of the quality of jobs in hospitality and tourism, but the reality is that part of our economy in the Berkshires is so developed that there are many opportunities across the spectrum. , from beginner to intermediate level. -management career and beyond, ”said Jonathan Butler, President and CEO of 1Berkshires, an economic development group.
Tourism is one of the five economic hubs that “import wealth” to the county, Butler said, and visitor spending has generated more than $ 1 billion in spending over the past five years for news. hotel properties, expansion of existing cultural facilities and other investment projects in Berkshire.
During the pandemic, some expressed concern about salary levels and working conditions in the cultural sector. Over the past year, workers have detailed their experiences through a group called Change Berkshire Culture, safety concerns have led a crew for a Williamstown Theater Festival musical to pull out, and pandemic layoffs have leads workers at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art to unionize.
Some presenters said on Tuesday that increasing the availability of affordable housing could help them hire staff and that expanding transportation options could help attract more visitors.
Eric Kerns, co-owner of the Tourists Hotel in North Adams, said the construction of a proposed cycle path connecting Williamstown and North Adams could provide visitors with an alternative mode of travel between attractions such as Mass MoCA and the Clark Art Institute. .
“Every day that isn’t done is money that’s left on the table,” Kerns said of the North Adams Adventure Trail Project.
Some developments, however, are promising. As reservations administrators marketed more to local families during the pandemic, the number of off-season visitors to sites such as Naumkeag in Stockbridge has increased, said Brian Cruey, organization director for the Berkshires. from South.
“We don’t lay off that many people for three or four months a year,” Cruey said, noting that the lack of affordable housing can be a barrier to hiring new staff. “We can keep them employed most of the year. “
The Berkshires have become “Massachusetts’ breadbasket for cannabis,” Butler added, although government funding cannot be used to market recreational marijuana stores.
The Berkshire Theater Group “wouldn’t be alive yet without government support,” said Kate Maguire, its artistic director and CEO. The organization’s production of “Godspell” in 2020 was the country’s first live-action and union-approved musical after the pandemic hit. Current goals, Maguire said, are to keep ticket prices affordable, hire interns with “a living wage” and diversify staff so that visitors “see themselves represented.”
State Representative Carole Fiola D-Fall River co-chairs the Tourism, Arts and Culture Development Committee, and she expressed hope that the legislature could provide funding to support tourism, although several priorities are vying for funding through the remaining $ 4.8 billion in federal aid.
“If we could write a check, we would do it today,” Fiola said. “This committee heard you. We know that leadership is very aware and supports the needs [of the industry]. It really comes down to dollars and cents of what we can do. “
Fiola hosted the event with State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield. State officials John Barrett III, D-North Adams, and William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox also delivered remarks.
Danny Jin, a member of the Report for America Corps, is the reporter for The Eagle’s Statehouse. He can be contacted at email@example.com,
@djinreports on Twitter and