BRATTLEBORO — I don’t like being approached in public (as a reporter, I realize the irony). But I didn’t mind at all when, as I surveyed the scene at the first Gallery Walk of the season, a little girl approached me on Elliot Street and pressed a packet of sunflower seeds into my hand. Taped to the packet were instructions for planting the seeds. At the bottom of the instructions were the logos for four local organizations: Building a Positive Community, Retreat Farm, Edible Brattleboro and Brooks Memorial Library.
The gentle gesture was a good indicator of the general vibe in town that evening: after a long winter, people glad to be around people, with whom they can finally share their talents, thoughts and kindness.
“We’re feeling pretty over-the-moon with how the first Gallery Walk event went off,” said Gallery Walk director Erin Scaggs. “Mostly we are hearing from so many community members about how great it felt, once again, to come back out into the community and see each other. Everyone is itching to spend time together outside, enjoying the things they love, like food, music, art and togetherness.”
The longtime downtown arts event has taken on the form of a street festival, a format Scaggs said has received good feedback from the community. With Elliot Street closed to traffic, festivities there this past Friday included live music from the rock ’n’ roll, party-style band LuxDeluxe, dancing, hula hooping and juggling. When the sun went down, the juggling pins glowed, creating a light show. And there were plenty of dogs, of many shapes and sizes.
The celebration took place throughout downtown. Near the Harmony Lot, in a space often referred to as Harmony Park, were an open mic, a collage station and a booth with information on Sonic Blanket, a broadcast for local radio by Brattleboro residents Jonathan Gitelson, Weston Olencki and Diana Whitney. The audio consists of an original poem read by residents, intertwined with music, environmental sounds and digital effects, and is broadcasting nightly, at midnight, for one year on WVEW Brattleboro Community Radio (107.7fm).
“It feels like a real start of the season of no longer being trapped in my house, and of seeing people,” Gitelson said. He said the organizers of Sonic Blanket are partnering with Gallery Walk for future projects, including an art installation in the Harmony tunnel.
At the open mic, Brattleboro writer and editor Michael Fleming, latest winner of the Sundog Poetry Book Award for his collection, “Bags and Tools,” had a crowd rapt with emphatic readings of his poems. He said many of his friends also read poems.
“Anybody can come and anybody can get up there and read a poem, and poetry happens when it is read out loud. Those things on paper — just scripts,” Fleming said after he read. “And it’s springtime — that’s the season for poetry.”
Some attendees took advantage of the talents of local photographer Ezra Distler, who had a booth set up for taking portraits.
“Every year, I get a little nervous before it happens, and then 10 minutes before we open, there are already people waiting for a photo, and its been great,” Distler said.
Distler was part of a makers’ market, also called Brattleboro Flea, where patrons browsed various local goods.
Meanwhile, inside the galleries, locals and visitors to town enjoyed the quiet, introspective experience of viewing the art.
“I love being surrounded by all this art and energy and people that appreciate art and create it,” said Raquel Master, of Chester. As she described her reaction to some of the pieces on display at Vermont Artisan Designs, she joked that she has seen too much art that day, then corrected herself, “it’s not even a thing to see too much art.”
Some of the works up in Vermont Artisan Designs included oil on linen nature scenes, including Stickney Brook Falls, by Kate Beetle, and oil on canvas animals, such as snow leopards and a gray wolf, by Julia Eva Bacon. Artist Susan Gordon Hillier, of Ashfield, Mass., was there to answer questions about her pastels on paper, many of her scenes inspired by views in the Pioneer Valley.
“Very lovely people have come, and very appreciative of art, so it’s been very nice,” Hillier said.
Greg Worden owns Vermont Artisan Designs, on Main Street, with his wife, Suzy. He said the shop has been especially busy due to prom season, and that he has enjoyed seeing the people out for Gallery Walk.
“It’s nice to have activity, and people out and about, a lot of people looking and seeing what’s available, what’s around after a long winter, or what felt like a long winter,” he said. “The energy that something like this generates overall is just a nice spring into the summer months.”
In the Harmony Parking Lot were food trucks, outdoor lights and a long table with a white tablecloth and flowers, a popular new addition.
“It looked like we were at a wedding, and everybody who wanted to would take their food and sit there and eat and it made for a community feeling and socializing, just to provide this beautiful place for people to eat,” said Kathleen White, of Brattleboro.
Mary Grove, also of Brattleboro, simply put it as, “I love Brattleboro.”
“That’s what I’ll say,” Grove said. “I just love this big town party. It’s a lot of fun, great to see everybody out.”
White added, “So many people I saw, that I knew, said, ‘I’m seeing people!’”
Gallery Walk is planned for the first Friday of each month, from 5 to 9 p.m. in downtown Brattleboro, through December. More information is available online at brattleboro.com/downtown/ gallery-walk.