By Jane Keller Gordon, Assistant Editor
Natick – Planning has definitely paid off in the town of Natick. The town’s center – a hub of performing and visual artists, guided walks, a farmers’ market, and economic development — has been designated as a Cultural District by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
A key participant in this transformation is Steve Levinsky, former chair of The Center for Arts in Natick (TCAN), and currently a board member of the Natick Center Associates, which oversees the Natick Center Cultural Council, a public/private effort.
Levinsky, who creates one-of-a-kind glass pieces using a hot fusing technique, and his wife, Denise Girardin, a potter turned multimedia artist, are part of a community of about 40 artists who have studios in downtown Natick. Twenty years ago, Girardin opened her studio at 3 Adams Street, which is now expanded and shared by Levinsky and four other artists.
This is a second career for Levinsky. Ten years ago, at the age of 52, he retired after working in human resources at Fidelity Investments.
“I figured out what to do by reverse engineering. I had a heat source (his wife’s kiln), so I started researching what I could do with it. Through the internet, I taught myself to fuse glass,” said Levinsky.
Levinsky and Girardin’s commitment to downtown Natick is reflected in their living situation. Four years ago, they sold their home after raising two daughters. They found a piece of property within walking distance to their studio and the train station. With the help of an architect, they channeled their artistic talents into a smaller house.
Levinsky is proud that during his tenure on the TCAN board the building was completed, creating a gallery and performing space upstairs. He left the TCAN board about a year ago.
“About eight years ago, I became chair of programming for the Natick Center Cultural District,” he noted. “We put together an extensive application for our Cultural District designation. In 2017, we applied for a five-year renewal, and were successful.”
The group developed a comprehensive strategic plan for 2015 to 2020.
“The Natick Mall had sucked all the commerce out of downtown Natick,” he added. “We gave it a purpose as a cultural center, with enough activities that people come out and collide with their neighbors and friends.”
That process truly took a village. Levinsky said that he worked with two bank presidents, the headmaster of Walnut Hill School, artists, selectmen, people from town government and cultural organizations, and local business owners.
“TCAN, Walnut Hill School for the Arts, and the town’s Morris Institute Library are the three hubs of activity,” he said. “We get together every month with these anchors and other organizations to review what we are doing right, and what we can do that’s new.”
The Natick Center Cultural District has an executive director and two part-time staff. The website (www.natickcenter.org) includes a comprehensive list of cultural activities.
The Natick Farmer’s Market is held 50 weeks out of the year, on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., on the Natick Town Common in the spring and summer, and at the Common Street Spiritual Center, 10 Common St., in the fall and winter.
In July, the annual ArtWalk takes place on Main Street and Washington Street.
“Seventy artists and crafters display their work. There will be bands and food,” said Levinsky.
The organization collaborates with Natick artists during their open studio event.
“We think it’s important to recognize and pay artists. We are about to launch a call for artists to create a notable outdoor piece of art that shows the way to another piece of art or an institution. We call this way-finding art,” Levinsky said.
The Natick Center Cultural District also collaborates with the MetroWest Visitors Bureau and the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce.
“We help residents understand what’s here, and we promote the region to international tourists,” said Levinsky.
For more information about the Natick Center Cultural District and events, visit www.natickcenter.org.
Photos/Jane Keller Gordon