Transcript – Episode 51


Announcer: This podcast is a project of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency committed to building creative communities and inspiring creative minds.

Patrick Norton: And art can sometimes, and I think– and we’ve talked about this, the word art center can sometimes be intimidating to certain populations. And Fall River has gone through some socioeconomic issues in the past. So we’re out in the community, we’re free and we’re fun too. And it’s not– it’s high quality, but not highbrow.

Anita Walker: Hi, I’m Anita Walker, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council and welcome to “Creative Minds Out Loud.” Our guest today is Patrick Norton. He is Executive Director of the Narrows Center for the Arts. And welcome to the program.

Patrick Norton: Thanks for having me, Anita. Glad to be here.

Anita Walker: I know the Narrows is a labor of love of yours in Fall River. Talk to us first a little bit about the Narrows and how it’s contributing to your community in Fall River and how you’ve brought along over the last what, 10 years or so.

Patrick Norton: This marks my 20th year involvement and I mark it–

Anita Walker: Twenty years. <laughs>

Patrick Norton: — by the birth of my first child.

Anita Walker: <laughs> Okay.

Patrick Norton: So it’s something I can easily remember because I say time flies when you’re having fun. And I’ve been having fun for the last 20 years. So it’s been a slow build we’ve developed. We’ve had two spaces. Five years in one space and in the last 15 years we’ve been in our biggest space on Anawan Street. And I think– I really think the Narrows Center for the Arts has put Fall River on the map as kind of a cultural destination. Because we mix both performing arts, visual arts and we have educational classes as well. So we do a lot different things and we probably have 200-plus events a year, so we’re busy.

Anita Walker: And it’s a huge contributor to Fall River. I mean it’s really almost a community center.

Patrick Norton: It is and it’s economic driver because for our concert 80 percent of the people come to our concerts and we had almost 30,000 people come from outside of a 15 mile radius. So we’re a real draw for restaurants, hotels. And because the music business draws people from all over– if you– if there’s an artist that you want to see in a cool venue, people will drive or fly a long way to go see it.

Anita Walker: So just rattle off a few that you’ve had in the last year.

Patrick Norton: Oh, Richard Thompson, Los Lobos, Richard Shindell. We mix a lot of from– the guys from the Allman Brothers, everything from classic rock to jazz, so we’re all over the place. We do about 140 music shows a year and about eight to 10 different visual art shows.

Anita Walker: That’s fantastic. So one of the things we were really interested in talking to you a little bit more about is the partnership that you have developed to serve developmentally delayed adults with art and music as an art and music therapy program. Talk about that, and also there’s employment involved.

Patrick Norton: Yes. I have– I’ve had the privilege– we work in an organization called People Incorporated and for 10 years I was on the board of directors there, so I have an intimate knowledge of what they do. And they’re an amazing organization that help people with developmental disabilities from birth all the way till– all– throughout their life. It’s all-encompassing. They do residential. They do rehab. They do vocational. And they have a whole work program too, putting people to work, and it’s a fabulous program. So I would say about 10 years ago we needed to someone to clean our space and we needed flexibility and they provide flexibility. They’ll come– you don’t have to schedule them on a day-by-day– on a week-to-week basis because we’re always changing. You call ’em and they’ll come in the next day. So it’s a great service. So we started with that and over the last three and a half, four years they came to me and they wanted to something with art and music, ’cause they knew that we could pull that together and we– and they wanted to do it at our facility, which I think really makes a big difference. So the consumers of People Incorporated come to our facilities four days a week. We have two art classes and two music classes. We service about, I don’t know, 20 to 25 consumers weekly.

Anita Walker: And what age group is this? All ages?

Patrick Norton: It’s adults. It’s adult. I would say it’s 18 to 65, maybe. It’s a pretty big group. And the music groups are smaller than the art groups. And I think the key to he success is the teachers that we’ve employed for the– for the developmental– disabled groups because we have the music artists that we’ve had– that we’ve hired who play at our concerts are now the teachers at our music classes. And then we use our visual artists who are in-house, ’cause we have art studios as well, they are the teachers. So they’re getting high-end–

Anita Walker: Professionals.

Patrick Norton: — professionals, who– and I got to tell you, all four of the teachers, it’s the best two hours of the week they tell me all the time. And it’s really something. I’m very, very proud of what we do.

Anita Walker: So the adults who are in the program, do they come to you with previous musical experience? Do they have skills already or are they just are interested in music?

Patrick Norton: They’re just are interested in music. We’ve had numerous clients who came in nonverbal that by the end of a– by the end of a six month program were stomping their feet, clapping their hands and participating. So our teachers are very good at finding what skills that they– I mean what skills they can contribute and drawing that out. And the self-confidence, because we don’t just do the classes, we do four concerts a year where we have each group comes up and does three or four songs and they invite their parents or people in the community come and it’s on our stage with the lights, so it’s kind of sexy. And we do the same things with the visual arts. We have two art shows a year with the consumers. So they– so it’s part, it’s what we do, you know, it’s, you know, it’s really inspiring.

Anita Walker: Do you provide any additional resources or training for the musicians or the artists in working with these populations?

Patrick Norton: I worked with the artists early on because I had a connection with People Incorporated and kind of gave them the lay of the land and what the parameters would begin to be. But they’ve really taken that and run with it. The music classes, the two music classes are completely different. One of the music classes they work on songwriting. Mark Cutler, who teaches the class, he’s in the Rhode Island rock ‘n’ roll fame. He’s played in bands all over the United States, he teaches songwriting two hours– two different classes two hours each and they work on songs.

Anita Walker: Now just pause on that a minute. So here’s a guy, a great musician whose career has really been about concretizing and composing and so forth. I’m trying to be a fly in the wall the day you said, “I want you to come and teach a class of developmentally disabled adults.” How did that conversation go?

Patrick Norton: Well, I’ve known Mark for a long time. And I knew he– I just kind of thought– and he was kind of transitioning with jobs. He was doing some different things and he had done a lot of teaching and I know he’d done– and I know friends who were taking guitar lessons with him, and I knew he had a super soft touch. And it requires a soft touch and patience. It’s a lot of work, but he loves it.

Anita Walker: but he didn’t say, “I don’t know how to do that. I don’t think I know how to do that.” He didn’t say that?

Patrick Norton: You know, he says, “I’ll figure it out.”


Patrick Norton: That’s how Mark is. You know, musicians and artists are pretty resourceful people, I found that out a long time ago.

Anita Walker: Well, and, you know, maybe another piece of it is because actually we’ve seen this in some of our other organizations where they’re connecting people of various abilities of all kinds with artists– people who have never done art before. And when it comes from the heart they’ll have that.

Patrick Norton: Yeah.

Anita Walker: And we may not be verbal or we may not be able to navigate or have– you may have physical barriers to participation, but there is something amazing about an artistic and musical experience that just finds the common ground.

Patrick Norton: Yeah, and the collaboration between the consumers too, they really get a lot because there really and a lot– some of the– a lot of the art is very collaborative. They’ll be eight or 10 consumers working on one painting and they’ll– and they’ll work on that painting for weeks at a time, where each consumer will go up and the teacher will go, “Let’s work on the upper left section today.” So I think everybody really feel– and, you know, everybody wants to be part of something bigger than themselves and I think that’s one of the things is– these classes accomplish.

Anita Walker: So talk a little bit more about that sort of the ripple effect. So you have the adults in the classes and you have the musicians. But you talked a little bit about sort of the public performance, the demonstration of the work, the chance to get a little applause.

Patrick Norton: Yeah.

Anita Walker: What does that mean to the family members?

Patrick Norton: I– it brings a lot of people to tears, quite frankly. It’s a very emotion– it’s a very emotional moment for a lot of the families to see their child really succeeding and with smiles on their face. And- and it’s– and again, the collaboration and seeing how the teacher interacts with them while the concert’s going on and in the interest level. And I think for a lot– I know I think for a lot of the consumers who, it’s one of the highlights of their week. They look forward. ‘Cause again, you come to the Narrows, it’s a cool little spot, there’s art on the walls. We have a dedicated classroom for this in our space, so it’s like their space. And I think, you know, they feel important. And they should. They feel valued and they should feel valued. That’s– I think that that was the initial impetus for most of the programs is for the consumers to feel valued.

Anita Walker: You know, one of the things that we love about the podcast is that people can discover ideas or things that they might want to try that other people are doing well. So if you were going to give some advice to another organization that maybe has a People Incorporated in their community what would be some first steps to think about in arranging a partnership like yours?

Patrick Norton: I think one, begin to try to identify some- some teachers. Try to get your teach– try to get some artists and musicians who– and ask around and see if this is something they’d be interested in, ’cause I think that’s the key. And then, you know, colla– and then collaborate with the organization and find out what their needs are. I think that’s important. It can’t be about your organization. It has to be about their organization and what their consumers needs and then you try to fill– then you try to craft a program to– to make them happy and make them successful.

Anita Walker: Do you think that at the end of the day one of the other outcomes of this program is positioning this population of developmentally delayed adults in the community in a different place that people look at them differently?

Patrick Norton: Absolutely. And they come to our concerts. We have a program where we give blocks of tickets to the consumer so they can come to the concerts as well. And they’ve come to see Mark Cutler perform on our stage with his own rock ‘n roll band. So there’s a different, so like, wow–

Anita Walker: So they might not have come–

Patrick Norton: — he’s my buddy Mark and he’s on stage and there’s 200 people in this place rocking and this is great. And they’re up, you know, dancing, clap. And it’s very, you know, when we talking about mainstreaming the population, it couldn’t be– it’s seamless, I think on that level.

Anita Walker: So this is an exciting program and I really want to thank you for sharing it. Before we wrap up though, talk to me a little bit more about the Narrows’ place in Fall River and how you’ve really made a difference over the last 20 years.

Patrick Norton: I think art should be accessible and there not a lot of arts available in Fall River. In fact, there are very little offerings, especially with the multitude that we have and we provide our galleries are free, Wednesday through Saturday, 12 to 5. We’ve done numerous projects with the schools, where every fifth-grader in the Fall River public school system came and visit our gallery for partic– we did– we did the LEGOs, which is phenomenal. But it’s a good connection, again where fifth-graders come to an art gallery and they know LEGOs, but these LEGOs are so cool, they are, and it’s a fun thing, and then they’ve brought their parents back. So again, and art can sometimes and I think that we’ve talked about this, the word art center can sometimes be intimidating to certain populations. And Fall has gone through some socioeconomic issues in the past. But I think we do free art festivals, we do Block-a-palooza. So we’re out in the community, we’re free, and we’re fun. And it’s not– it’s high quality, but not highbrow. So we’ve tried to adapt to the community because, you know, that’s how we started, was very community-based, open mics, you know, very non-juried art shows that we’ve kind of involved. And we still have some of those pieces in place. They can’t be our everyday offerings because we have got bills to pay and organizations involved and things like that, but we haven’t forgotten where we’ve come from.

Anita Walker: Twenty years of passion at work in Fall River. Patrick Norton, Executive Director of the Narrows Center for the Arts, another one of our Creative Minds out Loud.

Patrick Norton: Thanks for having me, Anita. It’s been a pleasure being here and the Massachusetts Cultural Council has been very supportive of us over the years and we appreciate that.


Announcer: To learn more about this episode and to subscribe, visit