I have a confession to make: I have an addiction to art show openings. You just can’t beat the scene – art, wine, hors d’oeuvres, and the conversation with vibrant people. It is a chance to meet the artist and talk about their art, to mingle, and to indulge in the things that make life great.
The people are much friendlier and open than in other social milieus. It is difficult to explain why, but it probably has to do with the type of people these events attract, as well the nature of the event. At a bar or restaurant people are sedentary and facing each other in a closed group, resilient to eye contact with outsiders. By contrast, walking about and looking at art tends to increase interaction due to the physical setup. But it is also an attitudinal difference. People are in a festive mood. There is a common interest. Perhaps the wine loosens inhibitions in a positive way. Those inclined to go to an art opening tend to be more openminded and engaging than your standard fare. It’s definitely the type of scene that you want to have in your downtown.
When I was at the Bryan Nash Gill art opening at the Berkshire Museum amidst a display of nature collected and turned into provoking art composed of wood, shells, dried flowers, leaves, feathers, and ( to the chagrin of some Buddhist friends that also came to exhibit), animal parts, I bumped into local artist Leo Mazzeo. I was lamenting the fact that it seemed harder to get my fix of art show openings this year in Pittsfield. He told me that it was his aim to change all that – and to stay tuned.
So I saw Leo again this Friday – you guessed it, at an art show opening when getting a fix. It was at Gallery 25, the art gallery on Union Street across from the Barrington Stage Theater. The event was part of the 10×10 Festival happening now. While I was trying to stick to the raw broccoli and avoid the cookies, Leo introduced me to a plan for Pittsfield called “Artswalk.” The basic idea behind Artswalk is the Third Thursday’s equivalent for the arts. The alliteration of ” Third Thursdays” would be kept since the event would be on ” First Fridays.” It’s the type of event that can work in the winter or inclement weather and it would bring the type of clientele you want in Pittsfield.
The basic concept of the First Fridays Artswalk is to have the downtown art studios and other venues dedicated to the visual arts have art show openings and other displays of visual arts. In addition, venues not traditionally dedicated to visual arts that show the ability to have professional displays would be included. For instance, as part of the 10×10 festival, Shawn’s Barber Shop on North Street is displaying local ink art. You could see how this could possibly help downtown – you get people actually going into the stores, bars, and restaurants. Something tells me that music will creep into the picture, a most welcome accretion.
As described in the promotional material, ” The ideal venue participants will be able to arrange for monthly themed shows with one or more artist displaying art in the visual arts, hang or otherwise display the work in a publicly accessible area, [ and] offer a public First Friday Artswalk reception for their artist.” While a venue with an open month simply will not be listed in the promotional material that month, to be included in the long- term promotional material a venue would need to ” demonstrate that it has a solid and stable program.”
The First Friday Artswalk committee would be available for assistance to help local merchants, but ultimately, the local venues would be responsible for their show. The committee would have no obligation to provide resources. Venues would have press release email deadlines where they would have to submit at least one high resolution image, hanging deadlines, and take down deadlines. A website would be dedicated to the event. While the concept is exciting, it is hardly original. But sometimes being tried and tested is a good thing. There are a number of municipalities that have used this monthly approach to a night out for the visual arts with considerable success. For instance, Northampton has a monthly “Arts Night Out” on the second Friday of every month. Apart from the numerous art galleries participating, venues included J. Rich Clothing for Men, the Cup and Top Cafe, and “Oh my” a “sensuality shop.” After seeing a show at the Oxbow Gallery featuring abstract art of Joyce Conlon (a sister of a friend of mine), we perambulated down Pleasant Street to the Foe Store and Gallery and saw an exhibit dedicated to ” Garamaniacal, an homage to the clunky, crusty, fish- lipped, oil- belching, high- rise- wrecking meteorite monster.” A band was playing music that wasn’t quite psychedelic and hard to place in a taxonomical niche, but was strange and went perfectly with the display.
No doubt, this is an ambitious project. But if done with quality art, quality events, and quality publicity, what a delight it would be to attend while promoting downtown.