BerkShares and Artistic Community

BerkShares Inc. and the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce are pleased to announce that the official launch of BerkShares, the new local currency of the Berkshire region, has been a great success, thanks in part to the support and participation of the dynamic artistic community of the Berkshires.

On Friday, Sept. 29, the Chamber of Commerce hosted an energetic celebration of BerkShares at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, emceed by Master of Ceremonies, State Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli. Over 400 people were brought to their feet by a diverse and talented range of local dancers and musicians including Berkshire Pulse, the Barrington Jazz Quartet, Martina Laska and Mountain Spirit Revival, the HooDoo Rythym Dogs, and Vikki True.

Some of the local artists whose work is featured on BerkShares also displayed artwork in the lobby of the theater. “The involvement of local artists is part of what makes BerkShares so special.” says Louann Harvey, Vice President of BerkShares and President of the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce. “BerkShares are works of art in and of themselves,” she states, “and pay tribute to artists of all disciplines who make up the world-class Berkshire arts community.”

The design of BerkShares include: “Reflected Connections,” a tranquil landscape by Bart Elsbach; “Bash Bish Gap” by Morgan Bulkeley, Jr., from the collection of Bobbie Hallig, depicting local wildlife of the region; the lively and colorful still life “Turnips on Table,” by Janet Rickus; “June” by Warner Friedman, featuring Friedman’s unique combination of landscape with geometric architectural form; and the warmly lit and richly colored “Green Shopfront” by Joan Griswold. Each denomination of BerkShares also features a scratchboard drawing of downtown Great Barrington by Michael McCurdy, and McCurdy’s “Revitalized Provence” is featured in the BerkShares logo.

During the launch week, over 63,000 BerkShares were placed into circulation by participating banks, and to date, over 150 local businesses have signed up to accept BerkShares, with more signing on every day. Businesses wishing to be added to the growing list may use the online form.  Ms. Harvey says that much of the enthusiasm about BerkShares throughout launch week centered on the uniquely beautiful look of our new local currency, attributed to their professional design and the inclusion of local artwork on the bills. “I’m thrilled to be a part of this project,” says Joan Griswold. “Having a sense of connection and responsibility to a community, whatever the size, makes it a more rewarding place to live,” adds Janet Rickus. Designed with great care and attention to detail by renowned local graphic artist John Isaacs, and printed by Excelsior Printers, a division of Crane and Co., BerkShares have the high quality look and feel of any national currency, and many of the security features as well. “The BerkShares concept does to a considerable extent bring together many of the basic elements found on dollar bills,” says Mr. Isaacs. “It was essentially an exercise in building resonance and elegance from furnished images, and text, typography, and color.” Many local business-owners have remarked that BerkShares convey a sense of value which instills trust in the local currency.


Each denomination of BerkShares also honors those who built our community by featuring prominent local figures from our region’s rich history; the Mohicans of Stockbridge, Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, Robyn Van En, Herman Melville and Norman Rockwell.  “The historical figure on one side of a bill and the artwork on the other is a subtle invitation to see broader connections between our personal choices and the world we help create,” says Bart Elsbach.

Warner Friedman, whose artwork is featured on the 20 BerkShare bill says he is “very pleased to see what a beautiful and tasteful job the designer of the bills had done, and to be paired with Herman Melville was indeed an honor. The whole experience has given me a greater sense of community.”

Michael McCurdy adds that BerkShares, “is truly an important undertaking that should serve not only our own region economically, but serve as a paradigm for other communities both far and wide as well.”

BerkShares will continue to circulate throughout the Berkshire region for one year, at which time, with the input of all sectors of the local community, reissue will be assessed. “Given the enthusiastic response to BerkShares already,” says Ms. Harvey, “we feel confident that BerkShares will become a vital tool for local economic renewal for years to come.”

The Schumacher Center is proud to join with other Berkshire businesses in accepting BerkShares.