Arts & Culture

The Other Renaissance City

This one-time whaling community is transforming into a thriving creative hub

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Trendy galleries, artist co-ops, live music venues, an urban winery and even a restaurant that turns into a disco. Would you believe that all of this big city action goes down in nearby New Bedford? Let’s face it: the city has had its share of problems over the years. While the historic Whaling City has gotten a bad rap, truth be told it’s a vibrant arts and entertainment hub that’s well worth a visit.

Where to Begin
There are plenty of great guides and colorful maps that you can pick up either at the waterfront Visitor Center on Fisherman’s Wharf (Old City Pier #3, 800-508-5353) or at many of the galleries located throughout the city. Buy Art Buy NB is a pamphlet that contains the addresses and hours of 13 galleries plus an easy-to-use walking map and information on parking. Downtown New Bedford Inc. is a free guidebook that includes not only gallery information but also listings of restaurants, museums, antique stores and more. Pick up either to navigate the streets with confidence.

Another method by which to get acquainted with the New Bedford arts scene is to attend an AHA! Night. This free arts and culture event takes place on the second Thursday of every monthfrom 5-9pm downtown. Over 60 mu- seums, galleries, artists, arts organiza- tions, merchants, restaurants, churches and schools band together to present creative programming to the community. Each month brings a different theme. Come out to enjoy art exhibits, live music, theatre skits and lectures. It’s the perfect way to dip your toe into the pool.

Galleries
While most visitors stay downtown, there are two lovely must-see art galleries in a big brick mill building in the South End of the city.

Colo Colo is easy to find with its loudly painted door. Through a beaded curtain you’ll stumble upon a spacious contemporary arts gallery featuring works by one artist at a time; each show runs for two weeks. Openings include food, wine and fabulous people. Owner Luis Villanueva plans to switch things up for 2015 when he’ll feature longer running shows with paired up two-and three-dimensional artists whose works complement each other.

If you drive around the back of the same mill building you’ll find Judith Klein Art Studio & Gallery. Like Villanueva, Klein once owned a downtown gallery but chose to pack up and move south. In her new studio the artist displays and sells her own wood cuts, gouache and acrylic paintings, linocuts and mono- prints as well as multimedia pieces by others. Judith Klein Art Studio & Gallery conducts call to artists providing locals with a stage upon which to show their work to the public. Stop by and see what’s in store.

Downtown on William Street is the beloved Gallery X. Housed in a quaint white former Universalist church with quirky oversized ant and cockroach sculptures on its façade, Gallery X is an artist cooperative that has been operating since 1990. The 150-seat building hosts visual and performing artists, musicians and writ- ers so expect the unexpected. Whether you’re a painter, a drummer, a thespian or simply someone who enjoys sitting and watching the magic unfold around you, this is the place to be.

It’s your mother’s birthday (or your father’s or your husband’s or your sister’s) and you still have to purchase a gift. Buy local at Gallery 65. This artist cooperative features fine arts as well as crafts from artists throughout the SouthCoast. From scarves to headbands to jewelry to clutches, your special lady can accessorize and take on the world. Wooden bowls, blown glass tumblers and impressive oversized hand carved fish-shaped cutting boards will help make your house a home.

On Thursday afternoons while the downtown farmers’ market takes place, the city streets are full and the people are happy. Load up on breads, cheeses and greens and then stroll on over to the New Bedford Art Museum. The museum staff does a wonderful job of researching exhibits and booking the ones that bring people in. Whether it’s an exhibition on color systems in found objects or a show about Audubon birds, there’s something here for every art lover.

Listen up winos! The Travessia Urban Winery is a winery and wine club that offers not only tastings and sales but also monthly art exhibitions. Pop in during an opening reception night to meet the artist, see his or her works and sample a few of the winery’s decadent blends. Owned and operated by a Portuguese immigrant, these skillfully handcrafted wines are sure to please the palate and be the perfect accompaniment to the paintings. Can you say perfect date night?

Live Music
You can’t discuss New Bedford’s music scene without mentioning the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center. Offering live music, comedy, dance and performance arts, the stage has been graced by the likes of Willie Nelson, Three Doors Down, Jim Belushi and more. Whether you want to take the whole family to the New Shanghai Circus or you want to expand your cultural palate with the Spirit of Uganda, the Z serves up just what you need.

If you’re in the mood to get a casual bite to eat and hear some tunes grab a burrito atNo Problemo before settling in to enjoy some great live music. Decorated in the style of Dia-de-los- Muertos-meets-skateboarder-heaven, this laid-back eatery is the perfect place to pop in after a long week of work.... Or with a hangover... or anytime you want to go out in sneakers and a hooded sweatshirt: there are no pretenses here.

The Pour Farm Tavern is a charming downtown bar and restaurant with outdoor seating in the warm weather. Every Monday night brings Open Mic with Chris Evil. Thurs- days bring Electric Blues with local musician Neal McCarthy. The weekly programming caps off with Sunday Night Jam Sessions featuring jazz, blues, funk and rock ‘n’ roll music. (Be sure to check out the art on the walls; Pour Farm hosts a monthly artist showcase too.)

Local bands like Pumpkin Head Ted have been known to play the annual New Bedford Folk Festival as well as local venues like Pier 37 Bar and Grill. Pier 37 is a friendly spot that offers live music every Monday night. Go online to see what’s in store for the week.

If you long for the European lifestyle of long meals and late nights, Incognito is the place for you. This trendy North End Mediterranean restaurant turns into a disco on Friday and Saturday nights. Each month brings a special theme night so be sure to call ahead or inquire within. You just may forget that you’re in New Bedford and not Madrid.