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How Black residents of Berkshire County perceive the region's vibrant arts economy

An economic development group in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, is trying to gauge how Black residents participate in the county's robust creative economy — and how they're treated.

The Berkshire Black Economic Council recently surveyed 137 residents who are Black. The organization asked respondents about attending shows and events at a dozen arts and culture venues in the county, including Barrington Stage, MASS MoCA, Tanglewood, the WAM theater and Mass Audubon.

About half of those surveyed were under 21. One question on the youth survey was, "How do you feel when you visit one of these places?" The answer options included "happy," "welcomed" and "excluded."

Fifty-five percent of respondents said events at arts organizations were relatable, but the answers are nuanced, said A.J. Enchill, president of the Berkshire Black Economic Council. Behind every number, he said, is a person with a story.

"If we have almost 10% saying they feel excluded, what does that really mean?" Enchill said. "And if that 10% goes and tells their family about the negative experience, there's that ripple effect."

Even more significant than the data itself are lived experiences, Enchill said.

"Some of which are empowering and some of which are horrific," he said, '"and that is the spectrum of what it's like to be Black in the Berkshires."

Enchill said the survey results will inform the council's efforts to address a lack of diversity in the Berkshire arts scene, as patrons and in the workforce.

Jill Kaufman has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing "The Connection" with Christopher Lydon and on "Morning Edition" reporting and hosting. She's also hosted NHPR's daily talk show "The Exhange" and was an editor at PRX's "The World."
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