Bing Center Unveils New Mural
Updated: Oct 18, 2017
Reporting by Zach Perry
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – If a building can fall on hard times, that’s exactly what happened to 716 Sumner Avenue. In 1999 the city took over the former Bing theater for the non-payment of taxes by its managers. By 2001 it was your typical derelict building; front lot overgrown… window panes dirty, interior a shamble. What was once a 900-seat neighborhood theater had become a government controlled vacancy.
But, by 2008, it housed the Bing Arts Center- a home for imagination and creativity. The major turnaround came at the hands of executive director Brian Hale and his foresight.
“The building became available. The city put out a request for proposals for a non-profit, community use, preferably arts related. So, immediately I thought arts center,” said Hale.
In the spirit of revitalization, Hale commissioned local artists Andrae and Priya Green to paint an outdoor mural this summer. The project grew to include college students and artists with a focus on the history of this building.
This project would be the first of its kind at the Bing.
When the kids saw the husk of a theater back there and we told them, ‘It has this big history, it used to be this big movie theater,’ they were totally on board,” said Andrae Green.“Seeing the movie theater and talking to Brian, seeing what he’s trying to do you get totally sucked into this thing that’s bigger than you.”
There were 10 artists in total, including both Andrae and Priya. The end product depicts four iconic film scenes. From left to right there is Marlon Brando as Captain Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, Jeff Bridges as The Dude in The Big Lebowski, Keanu Reeves as Neo in The Matrix, and finally Sean Young as Rachael in Blade Runner.
Hale remembered attending the Bing frequently with his brother and friends as their major weekly activity: “It was about 1978, a friend of mine was visiting from Washington. And it was coming up on Christmas weekend. And she called me up, middle of the day and says, ‘Hey you want to go to the Bing?’ I ask what’s playing and it was Herbie goes to Monte Carlo. It was the opening matinee, 1 o’clock on a Friday. We were the only two here…So, I’ve been here with two people, I’ve been here with 900,” said Hale.
Hale’s Bing Arts Center- minus the closed theater- was appreciated across the Springfield community when it opened.
“Ever since we moved to Springfield 14 years ago, we’ve been coming by this place,” said Michael DeVine, a Bing Center attendee. “We’ve been going by forever, but it’s always been closed. So, when it opened up and we found out there was stuff happening, we checked it out. We eventually found it was worthwhile.”
Hale’s end goal, however long it takes, is to get the theater up and running again. His timeline moves slowly as money flows in through donations. It will cost around $1 million to complete renovations in the theater. He hopes to give the people of Springfield their own local cinema without a 40-minute drive to Amherst or Hartford.