BRATTLEBORO — Gallery Walk returns to the downtown area on Friday, May 7 from 5 to 8 p.m. after two years - and it's all new.
Formerly organized by the Arts Council of Windham County and led for years by volunteer Joy Wallens-Penford before her death last year, this year the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance (DBA) has taken the reins.
Are organizers excited?
“Oh, my God! The thing that's great is we're getting to imagine and manifest the Gallery Walk of our dreams, and it's radically inclusive and diverse in its offerings,” says Erin Maile O'Keefe, founder/director of The Human Connection Project, which is hosting Artful Streets, one of three new main events.
“And fun,” adds DBA Director Stephanie Bonin. “Gallery Walk is an invitation for people to come out and be in community safely. It is a masks-on event. Three of the galleries will have showings outside, and the other 10 Gallery Walk stops have limits to the number of people welcome inside as well as hand sanitizer and mask protocol.”
“We ask people to only come out if they are healthy and experiencing no Covid symptoms,” Bonin continued. “We want to make sure everyone is feeling comfortable, and wearing a mask is part of that as we transform into a vaccinated world.”
A 25-year mainstay
Gallery Walk was started by Sally Fegley in 1996, when she was the owner of Tom & Sally's Chocolates on Elliot Street. Fegley hosted a folk art show once a month in her chocolate shop and got the idea to coordinate her shows with Windham Art Gallery openings.
That idea led to asking other downtown art venues to join the effort, which developed into what became known as Gallery Walk, with Fegley serving as the volunteer organizer of all aspects of GW for its first few years. Photographer Chris Triebert of Newfane was the volunteer designer who created the GW logo and produced the map and flyer of art listings each month.
About 1999, Triebert and Fegley stepped down and Wallens-Penford took the lead. For 25 years, the town of Brattleboro has celebrated first Fridays with Gallery Walk but, although a well-known mainstay of town culture, attendance had dwindled in recent years.
Following Wallens-Penford's passing, the Arts Council sought someone to take on the Gallery Walk mantle. As the downtown organization for the Downtown Improvement District, DBA agreed to take the project.
While the transition to DBA took place last summer, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers “knew we wouldn't do any in-person events,” Bonin says, adding that planning didn't really start until March.
Even given such a short amount of time to get it together, the event is full of ways to express art and socialize safely as a community after a long year of seclusion. Twenty-three artists have signed on for the May event and 40 for June. All 14 downtown galleries will participate.
Bonin, O'Keefe, and DBA staff member Erin Scaggs took the helm together to “engage the community in reimagining GW based on our town's assets and needs,” the trio says.
One asset, says Bonin, is that Brattleboro is “a town that considers ourselves an art center” as well as one that prides itself on community engagement and support.
As to needs, Bonin sees Gallery Walk as “an incredible platform for an invitation for people to come out and gather in a safe way.”
“Another need is to really raise up our artist community and shine a spotlight on them,” she says. “And my organization is always working on putting a spotlight on downtown and nurturing the vibrancy of downtown.”
“I think a need is also to have fun,” Bonin continues. “We've been through a really challenging year, and I think we need to let ourselves have fun and put on some smiles.”
With many facets to celebrate community and the arts on Friday, the new Gallery Walk is part of a larger vision to “feature our creatives, support our town with our creative economy, and build lasting creative infrastructure for community connections,” the group says, in keeping with DBA's mission to nurture the sustainability of the downtown.
“Downtowns are not just about commerce: they're gathering spaces for our community,” Bonin says. “Our long-term vision is that our downtown space is looked at as the most essential space of our community and serves many needs, both commercial and artistic. There's so much to downtown that's beyond commerce.”
“A lot of small towns in Vermont have a green, so they're built around a common space,” O'Keefe adds. “Brattleboro isn't built that way. We're activating these small spaces and getting feedback to help connect people.”
“Art becomes the invitation and landscape for what community can do there,” she continues.
And the community will play a role in the event's continued evolution.
“We're iterating through Gallery Walk and we're listening, and that will be the process of the town co-authoring what will happen on a long-term basis,” she noted.
One example is closing off Elliot Street and making it a stage for live music from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in collaboration with the Stone Church. The musical lineup is: M.O.D. (Molly on Drums) in May, Thus Love in June, Slim Pickens in July, Moxie in August, DiTrani Brothers in September, and Gaslight Tinkers in October.
That aspect of the event will provide much-needed gigs to local musicians and sound engineers. And with the light, music, color, and people, “no one will ever see Elliot Street the same way” again, says Bonin with a grin.
“Artists are really good at the iterative process,” O'Keefe says. “It's kind of like, let's do really spontaneous experimental activities around town and see what could happen here and weave in the talents of our townspeople. There's science, arts, community engagement, and more.”
The 2021 GW series will include the traditional Gallery Walk features - plus new ways to “activate our downtown and create more diverse, inclusive engagement” that go beyond closing Elliot Street. The event will also include a “Makers' Market and participatory art stations,” the organizers say.
All locations will be accessible, they note.
The Makers' Market will provide more than 25 young local artists who don't have brick-and-mortar venues with visibility and the chance to show and sell their work. The Market is the latest iteration of the Main Street Flea, in its current locale on the west side of Harmony Lot.
This specialty bazaar will feature handmade wares - and magic - from local artists/makers/collectors/craftspeople in a wide array of offerings, including ceramics, jewelry, spells, prints, cards, natural medicinals, home goods, vintage/hand-printed and dyed fabrics, and more.
“Who goes shopping in a parking lot? Nobody,” says Bonin. “But we are going to on Friday night.”
Calling it “another way of looking at a cold, ugly parking lot,” she added that “we're going to fill it with light and beauty, and I know I'll never look at it that way again. I'm going to appreciate it when I park my car.”
Another new feature, Artful Streets, is a DBA collaboration of pop-up stations “bringing art to places you don't normally see art” with The Human Connection Project and the focus for this community challenge project.
Those locations include along the Hooker-Dunham Theater alleyway at Patio by the River, and in Pliny Park at Main and High streets.
Artful Streets' vision is “to create whole community experiences of participatory arts and social engagement, designed to be inclusive of our diversity - age, gender, race, culture, identity, ability and experience.”
“It's going to cast a much wider net in our town,” says O'Keefe of the experience. “We'll be engaging youth and families and elders - and people who don't think they're artists. And it's all outdoors. This is a way we can creep back into town and engage socially.”
“People identify themselves in a certain way and wouldn't the incredible victory be that people walk away thinking they have a little artist in them?” says Bonin. “And what an incredible thing for the town to be introducing the artist in everyone.”
'What's the Word?' on May 7
The May 7 theme is “What's the Word?” with several art stations in Pliny Park with the intent “to honor and celebrate each other with words through art, poetry, games and love notes.”
• One can write a note to someone or something you've missed, learn to write a haiku, share what you value most in a word, learn the Abenaki word for things you see every day, write a postcard to the Connecticut River, or make a collage with Brooks Memorial Library's host, collage artist Michael Albert.
• Ask the River artist Evie Lovett will host a cyanotype postcard station where you can write a card to the river asking your question of it.
• On the lawn of the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, local authors Diana Whitney, Shanta Lee Gander, and youth poet Emma Paris will host an open poetry mic where you can share a poem you've written.
• Several downtown restaurants will offer grab-and-go meals outside.
Artists and artisans for May
• Andrea Bush of Glowpotz: Hand-thrown pottery vessels and kitchen ware.
• Kate Butt of KB Ceramics: Hand-thrown ceramic home goods.
• Ferne Johannson of Bone2Pick: Scrimshaw bones, jewelry, and prints.
• Ana Porteur of Anastasia's Closet Full of Color with vintage clothing and costumes.
• Allison Korn of Allison Korn Designs: Handcrafted silver jewelry (earrings and necklaces).
• Maria Pugnetti of Stone Child Studios: Jewelry, wearables, art prints, weavings, and home decor.
• Ezra Distler of Ezra Distler Photography: Nature and aerial photography prints, puzzles, and a photo booth.
• Audrey Batchelder of Kivimae Farm: Woodcut prints (of various sizes, on paper, cloth, and T-shirts) and dried flower wreaths and bouquets.
• Emily Bourne of Emily Rose Bourne: Mugs, vases, planters, bowls, pendants, and kitchen/home accoutrements.
• Julia Tadlock of First Water Jewelry: Raw stone and crystal jewelry, including necklaces, earrings, and bolo ties.
• KariLyn McLellan of Scoffs At Gravity: Hand-sewn, hand-crafted earrings, and graphic prints.
• Berkley Heath of Berkley Sierra: Naturally dyed bandanas, scarves, wall hangings, and baby onesies.
• Judith Thomas of Judith Thomas Ceramics: Small ceramic characters.
• Lucie Tatro of Tatro Arts: Ceramic cups, bowls, and plates as well as Risograph cards, prints, and original paintings.
• Lisa Roberto of Swirl: Vintage clothing/jewelry and some kitsch.
• A. Hanus of Slights Acute and Bexx Merck of Sun in Sorrow: Wood items such as cutting boards, jewelry holders, laptop stands, and a few refurbished found items, plus herbal blends.
• Ashley Graves of Graves and Company Handmade: Crocheted accessories, steering wheel covers, and bike seat covers.
• Cory Jorgensen of Juniper Rain and Crow: Flower art and crystals. Specializing in flower preservation using homegrown florals and nontoxic epoxy resin.
• Madeleine Boga of The Fieldery: Vintage clothing, accessories, and housewares, with an emphasis on natural fibers and materials.
• Sophia Aussant of Sophia Rose Pottery and Arts: Ceramic planters, decorative vases, and embroidered shirts and tote bags.
• Bobby DiTrani of Bobby DiTrani Art: Prints of original paintings and drawings, original screen prints, and small original drawings and paintings.
• Heather Bartels of Darlin Companion: Handmade leather goods and vintage wares.
• Larisa Volkavichyute of Ciute Creations: Hand-painted, laser-cut plywood earrings, pins, and brooches from three Russian artists and designers.
Upcoming Gallery Walk themes
The following descriptions were provided by Gallery Walk organizers.
• June 4: “Let's Move!” Shake off the long year at home and dance and move in the streets. Learn a few moves or a whole new dance. Bring your sweetie and tear it up at one of the pop-up dance floors. And try your hand at some accessible circus tricks.
• July 2: “Step Up to the Mic.” Do you have an original song, poem, short story, or joke you've been dying to try out on an audience? July is your month! Mics will be set up at three locations downtown, each with its own theme.
• Aug. 6: “Game On!” Are you ready to take your gaming prowess out into the streets? Try it on one of your favorite oversized board games around town. Sign up to play Bananagrams, chess, or exquisite corpse. Have an idea for a game? Bring it and try it out on some willing players.
• Sept. 3: “Technicolor Town.” Make the town colorful! Have you ever had an idea of how to make a spot downtown more vibrant, engaging, playful, and just plain cool? Use lighting, chalk, and reused materials to create a splash of color in your part of town. Submit your big ideas, and three will be chosen for all to make together during this Gallery Walk.
• Oct. 1: “Eye See You, Brattleboro.” Together, tell the bigger story of the people and places of town. Through all media, create a collective self-portrait of Brattleboro. Paint, photograph, write, perform, or install your lens. See Brattleboro through the eyes of others with whom we live.