Art leads to renaissance of small, dying town

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

What happens when your home town dies? Filmmaker Nancy Kelly remembers wincing while reading a New York Times article that advised yuppie tourists to put their cars in reverse to avoid the "post-industrial blight" of her native North Adams, Mass. Kelly chronicles the decline and revival of North Adams in the charming first-person documentary "Downside Up" on the series "Independent Lens" (9 p.m., PBS).

North Adams fell on very hard times after the family-owned company Sprague Electronics was sold to a big corporation that soon closed the outdated factory. As in many old manufacturing towns, unemployment soared, alcoholism and defeatism reigned, and Main Street filled with boarded-up storefronts.

Early in the 1980s, developers suggested that the old Sprague Factory might house the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, or MASS MoCA. After years of political horse-trading, fund raising, and some disappointments, MASS MoCA opened in 1999.

North Adams is hardly unique. Towns all over America have experienced similar transformations. Kelly does a good job of balancing feelings of skepticism and euphoria, and treating both MASS MoCA's curators and town residents with respect and even affection.

Tonight's other highlights

Series notes

-- Turner leads the hunt for a missing warhead on "JAG" (7 p.m., CBS) ... Auditions continue on "American Idol" (7 p.m., Fox) ... Andrew threatens to make a documentary about the gang on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (7 p.m., UPN).

Jim's old pal gets fresh with Cheryl on "According to Jim" (7:30 p.m., ABC).

Training wheels on "Frasier" (8 p.m., NBC) ... A photo from her naive past haunts Abby on "Abby" (8 p.m., UPN) ... Adam and Susan attend a mobster's wedding on "A.U.S.A" (8:30 p.m., NBC)

Late night

Sharon Osbourne and Norah Jones appear on "Late Show with David Letterman" (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jay Leno welcomes Dennis Miller on "The Tonight Show" (10:35 p.m., NBC).