Bellforge Arts Center kicks off summer slate with long-term creative vision

Photo Credit: Michael Marotta

Sometimes the places with a deep-rooted sense of history are the best sites for a long-term creative vision of the future. That’s the goal of the Bellforge Arts Center, at the core of a sprawling 87-acre campus at the site of the old Medfield State Hospital, where ambitious plans have been set in motion to establish a multi-arts indoor and outdoor recreational facility located in the MetroWest region roughly 18 miles southwest of Boston.

And the sense of “then and now” was on full display this past weekend, as Bellforge hosted a launch party for media and VIPs that not only launched its extensive summer performing arts series, but also showcased the expansive open fields, the historical cottage-style buildings that defined the former psychiatric hospital complex until its closing in 2003, and its central Chapel, with its plans to be transformed into a 300-seat performance and special event venue (scenes from the 2010 film Shutter Island where filmed there). Medfield State Hospital was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994, and the site’s former Infirmary, located near the Chapel, will be transformed into an arts education center, and a connecting breezeway will connect the spaces for a 24,000 square-foot arts hub.

The event, organized by Bellforge with Vanyaland publisher Redefined, featured live music from Will Dailey (pictured) and Dutch Tulips, and a panel on the importance of the arts that starred artist manager Ralph Jaccodine; Great Scott booking agent Carl Lavin; HipStory Founder and CEO Cliff Notez; and Jean Mineo, the Bellforge Arts Center’s executive director.

“The arts have always been something you connect with emotionally,” said Lavin during the panel discussion, noting that people are in “an instant community” when together in a live setting. “Having a place that fosters that and curates that is admirable.”

And so are the long-term plans for Bellforge, which will be dictated by a June 21 vote at Medfield’s Town Meeting. Mineo stressed the importance of the town’s residents voting to allow Bellforge to proceed with Trinity Financial, their preferred development partner, and allow the New York- and Boston-based firm to purchase some of the property to execute their vision, with plans to be completed by 2026. Mineo says Trinity understands the value of the keeping the arts within the property, and has experience working with historical sites to keep grant money coming in and building to be properly maintained before, during, and after rehabilitation. Not all buildings will be preserved, Mineo notes, but saving the core buildings of the facility will help protect its historical value and transform the area into an arts haven.

In addition to the performance space, the long-term vision of Bellforge, broken into phases, also includes music and visual arts classes, rehearsal space and artist studios, after-school programs and summer camps, and a focus on community wellness that offers craft fairs, farmers markets, yoga sessions, and more. Organizers predict it could serve nearly 80,000 participants, attendees, and visitors per year.

“The vision for the Bellforge master plan is exciting and would add a desperately needed resource for local and touring artists,” says Gary Dunning, a Bellforge Arts Center board member and Celebrity Series of Boston’s president and executive director. “It would also give more Massachusetts residents the opportunity to experience live performances, which always adds value to the economic and creative life in our community.”

Those on the panel echoes similar sentiments. Notez reasoned that “art is the byproduct of creativity,” and marveled at how the Bellforge space was a “blank canvas.”

Courtesy of Cultural Alliance of Medfield

Notez will have a strong say in filling in that canvas this summer. This Saturday (June 18), his HipStory House Party holds court on the lawn for a free event featuring Luke Bar$, Fort√©, Tricia Reed, ToriTori, and DJ Mojo. The following weekend (June 25), Redefined kicks off its Summer Sounds Festival series, a monthly showcase with events in July and August, with an inaugural lineup starring Notez, plus Blue Light Bandits, Zola Simone, Gatch, Kaylee Federmann, Paper Tigers, and Salem Wolves.

Other events feature a Great Scott pop-up on July 9; a Vanyaland comedy and music party in August (details coming soon), and a trio of BAMS Festival pop-ups through September. Get the full lineup and performer info here. As the summer season fades, the fall slate welcomes a series of Oktoberfest events and a family-friendly CultureFest, in partnership with Medfield Together and designed to “bring our community together to celebrate and learn about the customs, traditions, artwork, music, and food of diverse people within and around our town.”

According to Patch, the events over the next several months — 25 in total, all free and open to the general public — are made possible by a $10,000 Arts & Culture grant Bellforge received from the Foundation for MetroWest, as well as and a $45,000 award given by the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism (MOTT). “With Bellforge, we’re emphasizing a place for making, whether that’s art or friendships,” Mineo tells the publication.

For both of those things, Bellforge Arts Center has a plan. It started this past weekend, and extends well into the future.

Check out a video further detailing those plans below.