FALL RIVER CULTURE COALITION
A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats
May 18 2023
IN-FOCUS ARTICLE: ASHLEY OCCHINO – Fall River Arts and Culture Coalition
“We always say it, because we’re on the coast: a rising tide lifts all boats. That’s definitely what we’re trying to do here with FRACC.”
Those are the words of Ashley Occhino, Executive Director of the Fall River Arts and Culture Coalition (FRACC). The cultural harbor of Fall River, Massachusetts is starting to fill up in the best possible way. FRACC is a coalition of individual citizens, artists and creatives, cultural organizations, businesses, and government officials. Occhino described FRACC as “an advocate, an asset, and a resource,” and its goal, she said, is to “really empower the creatives of Fall River and to move everyone forward in a meaningful and collective collaborative unit.”
FRACC started in 2019, Occhino said, “with five people meeting at The Pink Bean to talk about issues of arts, and not getting where we know we can be in the city. We’ve grown from 5 to 17 to, when I came on board, 90. Now we’re at 170.” You don’t need to be an artist to become an individual member; just email Occhino or send a message to FRACC on their Instagram page.
FRACC’s monthly meetings are open to the public and happen on the second Monday of each month. The meetings are held in person during warmer seasons, at a different location each month; winter meetings are held on Zoom. Even if you aren’t able to attend, Occhino, said, “you’ll always get looped in, even if you can’t come to the meetings. You’ll get notes from the meeting.”
“It’s really important that we all have this opportunity to come together and talk to each other, because where else would we have this chance? There’s such desire within the folks here to take advantage of opportunities in the way they haven’t in the past. There are a lot of young organizations in town, and there are some that have been around for a while but have been under the radar.”
Those meetings also periodically feature guest speakers touching on a variety of topics. Occhino said, “We just had a fantastic meeting where it ended up being a presentation by a nonprofit group called Revolution 250. They’re doing a whole initiative about reframing stories that haven’t been told about U.S. history. They talked with us about the idea of building up programming and future funding and collaboration.
“[The meetings] provide a platform for people to come together and interact with folks either at a government level or another nonprofit that they wouldn’t get otherwise.” One topic that comes up in meetings is a range of initiatives the coalition members use to support Fall River’s artistic and cultural direction. The annual Fabric Arts Festival, returning in October of 2023, celebrates the arts, community, and the city of Fall River itself. This year will be the fifth edition of Fabric.
The Narrows Center for the Arts and the city’s free Summer Evenings in the Park rotates between different parks in Fall River, and features live music, arts and crafts, and food vendors. Ashley said the evenings are designed to “encourage people within different neighborhoods to come out and engage with people that have driven down to visit.”
In addition to those events, Ashley Occhino says, “We’re going to do our second open studio event this year. We’ll also be bringing back the third annual We HeART Fall River. That one is definitely beloved by families. We’ll have a stage with a band, and we have different dance studios coming out to perform. We have local organizations and individual artists doing activities. It also kicks off the vendor season here for makers who sell their work. There’s something for all ages.”
FRACC’s initiatives also aim to better support artists and arts organizations. “How do create economic opportunity? When we host events and do a lot of activities, it’s about setting best practices to make sure people are paid but also giving them opportunities. Right now, we have an afterschool program running, and it’s an opportunity for artists and musicians in the community to come in as guest artists and get a stipend for participating in the program.
“It’s also about providing a solid infrastructure to educate and skill up people here in the city. Within the art realm, we all have blind spots when it comes to finances or donor relations. Practice Best Practice has partnered with us, and we’ve been doing some workshops with them.”
The two most recent workshops covered project planning and writing placemaking grants. Two additional workshops will cover marketing and a topic that’s especially troublesome for gig workers: filing taxes. This will be an especially important workshop for creatives who have received a Mass Cultural Council Recovery Grant; that grant, like all freelance (or 1099) income, is not only subject to federal and state income taxes but the 15.3% federal self-employment tax.
The bigger mission is to empower artists and organizations to learn to do these things on their own, Ashley said. “The economic development really comes in teaching creatives how their business can make money for them and how to go after grant money. I’ve really been working hard to make sure that people know about grant opportunities they can apply for. And for the ones that want it, I’ve been happy to sit with them while they’ve worked through filling out the application, and even filling out the W9 form and other forms once they got the money because they were successful” in winning grants.
Once the money starts coming in, Occhino said, artists need to remember to pay themselves. “We’ve taken ‘scrappy’ to a negative place where we penny-pinch and take ourselves out of the budget for the project. We’ll pay for everything else, but we never pay ourselves.
“With Practice, Best Practice, they have their living wage calculator sheet. They use the MIT living wage calculator, and I pull that thing out all the time. I share it with people and say, ‘Based on this living wage, I recommend for your project that you don’t pay yourself less than $50.00 an hour. At the end of the day, you’re a professional, you should be making a living wage.”
What’s next for FRACC? “More murals. FRACC received an earmark in the state budget, so we’re excited to launch this project. We’ll be doing at least one large mural this summer. Like the mural project last year, it’s so important that community engagement is part of it, and that we’re not just doing the mural. We had some free food truck lunch days, and we had some art activities. We’ll be doing that again this year.”
The art scene in Fall River continues to surprise her. “It’s so much deeper here than I think people realize. We are still very much a mill city in the sense that there is active work happening, and active designers are designing in those mills. At the same time, there’s a really cool underground art and music scene going on here.
“I think that when people think of Fall River, they just have the wrong perception. Fall River is 49% green space, and people don’t realize that. Really, there’s just so much beauty within the landscape and beauty within the arts. There are just so many creative people here, that I’m still meeting them.”
FALL RIVER ARTS AND CULTURE COALITION
200 Pocasset Street
Fall River, MA 02721
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About Ashley Occhino – She is the Executive Director of the Fall River Arts and Culture Coalition (FRACC) a committee of One SouthCoast Chamber and is responsible for implementing the City’s first-ever strategic arts and culture creative economy plan. With over 20 years of experience managing creative environments, she has directed efforts to enhance interactive, educational, and outreach-based programs across the state. She has overseen impactful projects such as Creative Courts, exhibitions featuring Pete Souza and Ruth E. Carter, and Viva Murals. Beyond art administration, her artwork has been exhibited at Nave Gallery Annex, SURTEX, and “8 Visions”.
Scott is a New Bedford-based singer, songwriter, and sound sculptor. He’s also The Artists Index’s Music & Performing Arts Podcast Host and In-Focus Article writer. Scott’s been creating music under the name Scapeghost since 2016.
In-Focus Podcasts are funded in part with grants from the New Bedford Cultural Council and the Fairhaven Cultural Council, local agencies supported by the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency.
The Artists Index collaborates with the New Bedford Whaling Museum's Common Ground Project to collect and share the interwoven stories of the South Coast's creative community.
The Artists Index collaborates with The New Bedford Light and the New Bedford Light Fine Arts Club to promote and encourage the sale of emerging and established South Coasts artists' work.