Local attorney works to make Probate and Family Court a more welcoming place

Issue July 2003 By Krista Zanin

When families enter the Hampshire County Probate and Family Court for often sad and tense circumstances, a long, barren hallway greets them. The court, after all, used to be a parking garage.

Beth Crawford
Photo by Pat Plasse
Attorney Beth A. Crawford stands with a quilt sample that will be replicated on a much larger quilt to hang in the Hampshire County Probate and Family Court this fall. Crawford received an MBA Community Service Award through the Hampshire County Bar Association for her work in bringing art to the courthouse.
But thanks to efforts by a local attorney and a group she has organized, touches of beauty are coming to the courthouse walls to bring comfort to families.

"What I'm hoping is (this project) will make the court a more inviting place," said attorney Beth Crawford, who recently received an MBA Community Service Award through the Hampshire County Bar Association for her work on the project. "One of my thoughts is that by transforming the environment of the court into a more welcoming environment, that it may have a positive influence on people using the court."

Crawford and others in the community formed a committee to make the environment of the court more welcoming and less intimidating. Through fundraising efforts with the Hampshire County Bar Association, the committee raised $4,000 for the project.

Their efforts will be seen this fall when a vibrant quilt will adorn the courthouse's staircase, presenting a colorful image for those who enter and leave. The quilt, which is being created by fabric artist Susan Boss of Boss/Brown Art in Easthampton, features a tree symbolizing life.

In addition, local photographer Shelley Rotner is donating photographs she took of children, parents and grandparents, which will be interspersed with quotes about children and will hang in a hallway where families often have to wait for hours before their cases are called.

Interest also has extended to other artists, including sculptors and painters, who want to become a part of the project. Crawford is investigating various grants that might be available to bring more art to the courthouse.

Probate and Family Court Judge Gail L. Perlman said the project will bring cheer to the courthouse and make it a more welcoming environment. But in addition to aesthetics, Perlman has found a surprising extra value to the project - it's impact on the community's interest in the courthouse and their association with it.

"What I've learned from this project is we don't have to be quite so direct in the way we involve the community," Perlman said. "Here's an opportunity to get people in for a different reason, but the underlying work of the court and the approach of the court and the needs of the litigants can all be explained to people through this project.

"It's a project they care about so their ears are open and their minds are open. This project has brought people in … Now they are fascinated by what goes on in this building and they had no idea what was happening in here before."