The South Coast: Arts Community With Historic Roots

New Bedford Whaling Museum.

by Don Wilkinson

In the mid-1990s, local media in southeastern Massachusetts began referring to what was then called Greater New Bedford as “the South Coast.” This unabashed bit of public relations boosterism was an attempt to negate the perceived stigma of urban blight and high unemployment.

It was a successful rebranding. The sometimes vaguely defined South Coast area has expanded to usually include 11 Massachusetts municipalities, and sometimes the Rhode Island border towns of Tiverton and Little Compton.

However, New Bedford remains the hub of the region. In 2011, in a much- quoted article in The Atlantic Monthly, urbanist Richard Florida declared it the seventh-most creative city in the United States, based on self-described artists working per capita.

The South Coast has a thriving art community with creative roots reaching back to the glory days of whaling, when New Bedford was one of the richest cities in the world.

A visit to the South Coast would be less than complete without exploring the New Bedford Whaling Museum (18 Johnny Cake Hill). It displays scrimshaw, harpoons, the skeleton of a sperm whale and the Lagoda (the world’s largest ship model). But it also exhibits the riveting artwork of legendary New Bedford painters Albert Bierstadt, Clifford Ashley and Albert Pinkham Ryder.

A few blocks away, The University Art Gallery — on the New Bedford campus of the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth — is housed in an old and elegant department store at 715 Purchase Street. It is open to the public year-round and features innovative contemporary work by faculty and internationally recognized contemporary artists. The space also includes Gallery 244, a smaller showcase generally displaying student art.

Walk across the street to the Green Bean and get caffeined up with a cappuccino or an Earl Grey. If it’s later in the day, one might consider making pour decisions at the Pour Farm Tavern, a few doors north, which has an ever- changing selection of IPAs, stouts and other brews. The menu is pub food (burgers, chili, chowder), but get their signature sandwich — the Cubano.

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