FALL RIVER — Eager not to lose momentum from their inaugural edition, FABRIC Arts Festival organizers and artists are bringing back the event to Fall River on Oct. 16 and 17, and have applied their collective imagination and ingenuity to cope with pandemic limitations but still create an impactful program that can trigger discussion, thought, and artistic fruition.
The outcome is a multidisciplinary program that combines physical interventions with unique virtual experiences, ranging from a concert by 16-year-old Portuguese guitar prodigy Gaspar Varela who recently accompanied Madonna on her Madame X Tour to an exhibition by emerging artists at the Merrow Manufacturing building that will serve to speculate around the role that an improvised art space such as this can have in creating a contemporary art museum in the city.
“FABRIC 2020 is an exercise of endless imagination and I am very proud of how the team was able to shift and realize our vision to bring these cultural experiences to the community safely,” said Michael Benevides, who conceptualized the festival. “As an eclectic and multi-generational event, the festival is, foremost, a welcoming invitation to rediscover Fall River, explore its cultural and historical dynamics, and its many singularities.”
Organized by Casa dos Açores de Nova Inglaterra (CANI) under the leadership of Benevides, FABRIC is curated by Jesse James and Sofia Botelho, artistic directors of the Walk and Talk festival in the Azores, and António Pedro Lopes, co-director of the Tremor music festival in the Azores.
“It was an incredible experience to imagine all these projects due to the different context in which we are living because of the pandemic,” James told O Jornal in a phone interview from the Azores. “We really had to adapt, and it has taught us a lot.”
The curators’ creativity and skills are now coming into view in musical performances, art installations, performative walks series, and a series of “past-ups” that will be seen around public spaces in Fall River. The main goal, according to festival organizers, is to inspire a narrative that celebrates and reflects the urban and social fabric of Fall River, which is woven in industrial heritage in textile mills and its deeply rooted cultural bond with Portugal.
“We could not cancel this festival,” James said. “It was super important to continue this process of making connections and relationships with artists, agents and people in the city.”
Prevented from coming to the United States due to current restrictions on international travel, the curators had to plan the festival from abroad.
“It is from a radical standpoint of openness that we face the challenges of this very moment to reinvent the ways that art can activate and awaken a city,” stated the curators in a prepared statement. “Above all, we will challenge the impossible and do it all with respect, care, and making sure everyone feels safe, curious, and welcome.”
The musical component will include five performances titled “Fados, Fairies & Violas,” which were specifically recorded in Lisbon and the Azores for Fall River audiences and will be projected onto Fall River City Hall on Oct. 16 and 17 from 8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Lasting each 30 minutes, the concerts will feature: Ricardo Rocha, who is regarded as one of the best Portuguese guitar players of his generation; Gaspar Varela, the great-grandson of the Fado singer Celeste Rodrigues and great-grandnephew of Fado legend Amália Rodrigues; Rafael Carvalho, a master in the Azorean instrument of viola da terra; the rising duo Lavoisier who will highlight the poetry of Miguel Torga; and ground-breaking queer fado beasts Fado Bicha.
“This festival is never cut-and-dried. It’s not supposed to be just for one audience, but for traditional and alternative, for all colors and creeds,” said Benevides. “It is about educating audiences and bringing something that may be a little bit foreign to the local community. This is not what people are accustomed to see. The format is a lot more progressive, edgy and avant-garde.”
Nevertheless, Benevides said organizers will always strive to create a balance between showing something outrageous and different to the audiences and making a connection to the local community.
“I think that’s why it’s unique,” he said.
Lisbon-based choreographer and contextual artist Gustavo Ciríaco has designed and mentored remotely six “Come Walk With Me” online sessions conducted via Zoom, which will invite participants to rediscover Fall River, including Historic Downtown and the Quequechan River Rail Trail. A local guide will meet with the participants at the designated date and time slot and discover the sites according to their unique collaboration. The sessions will take place on Oct. 17 at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 2 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.
International travel limitations also led curators to rely more on local talent or artists who have made a name for themselves elsewhere but were originally from this region.
“Discovering all these talents was a very interesting process,” James said. “In the end, FABRIC created a stage for many of these artists to return to the region or find a context to present their work in the city.”
Fall River residents and interdisciplinary artists Harry Gould Harvey IV and Brittni Ann Harvey, whose works have been featured in key galleries and museums, will curate a group show with several local, emerging artists at the ground floor of the Merrow Manufacturing building on Bedford Street.
“We discovered Harry last year through FABRIC. We discovered this gem in the city, and he’s got a lot of art world connections,” said Benevides.
Visitors will be able to admire the work of Michael Assiff, Brittni Ann Harvey, Gregory Kalliche, Zachary John Martin, Susan Mohl Powers, Jeffrey Alan Scudder, Flannery Silva, Faith Wilding, and Allyson Vieira on Oct. 16 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and on Oct. 17 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. To ensure social distancing, guests will travel in a circular flow through the space, which will have a separate entrance and exit and limited capacity.
“This [exhibition] will imagine what the Fall River relationship with the arts and culture can be and how it can be an engine for development in the city in the future,” James said.
Less than two miles away, three large, site-specific art installations will bring attention to the Quequechan River Rail Trail. Design studio and collective WSDIA (WeShouldDoItAll) from Brooklyn, N.Y., will be doing an architectural installation on the 1.4-mile trail, reimagining what can be future places of gathering. Interdisciplinary artist Tracey Cockrell will present sound installations on the Trail with students from UMASS-Dartmouth. The installations will be on view beginning Oct. 17 at 10 a.m.
“This festival presents the city in a completely different way,” Benevides said. “It invites people to move around and experience different things.”
In addition, New Bedford-based multimedia artist Tracy Silva Barbosa will create a waterfall projection to illuminate onto Fall River City Hall to pay tribute to Fall River’s namesake where the Quequechan River flows through the city and drops steeply into the bay. The projection will be available Oct. 16 from dusk to dawn.
A series of “past-ups” will be seen around public spaces in Fall River from Oct. 16.
Musician and saxophonist Chase Ceglie, a graduate of Berklee College of Music, will record a live set of original music from home which will become available through a QR code only. On Oct. 16, the unique code will become available online and found on stickers spread around Fall River and in diverse cities within Massachusetts. The 22-year-old Newport, R.I., native received recognition for the 2017 cult album “Onion.”
Although forced, this hybrid edition of the festival offers some opportunities, James said.
“It opens a series of doors,” he said. “All the content produced for this edition will be made available online a few weeks after the festival. This project will reach new audiences and be recognized and experienced by people in other places.”
In addition to the two-day program, Portuguese lettering and sign painting studio “Halfstudio” is developing a graphic project inspired by the song “Viva Fall River” composed by Azorean immigrant Jorge Ferreira.
The colorful mural is expected to be painted on the wall of Potter’s Printing Inc. (former Herald News Building) in the spring because the pandemic delayed the restoration project of the edifice.
“It will be an opportunity for us to generate some buzz for FABRIC in the spring,” Benevides said. “I feel we are making big leaps with FABRIC, but we still have a lot of work to do. I think these are the beginnings of how you build an arts and cultural scene.”
Fall River Mayor Paul Coogan said the city is lucky to have the dedicated group behind FABRIC adapting this year’s festival to the pandemic.
“In a time when the arts are in short supply both in Fall River and nationwide, we are happy that residents have a safe local event to look forward to,” the mayor said in a prepared statement. “FABRIC will continue to show all who attend that Fall River is an up and coming community with an exciting cultural scene.”
FABRIC 2020 programming is free and open to the public, but some activities will require pre-registration due to limited capacity. For information, complete schedule and artist bios, visit www.fabricfallriver.com.