BRATTLEBORO — A longtime downtown arts event is rebooting this week with an added focus on performance art and new, outdoor components.
Gallery Walk, now organized by the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance, will once again be held the first Friday of each month, starting this week, with 13 galleries open for viewing, plus an outdoor stage, community art-making stations and specialty bazaar from 5 to 8 p.m. Local restaurants will also be selling food.
With a street fair-like vibe, organizers hope to expand the program and to whom it is accessible.
“We’re trying to make this feel like every member of our community can relate to this program, can feel comfortable going to any of these stops and coming downtown to take in some art,” said Gallery Walk program director Erin Scaggs. “We’re hoping people from all walks of life will be able to feel like Gallery Walk is for them.”
Gallery Walk began to take shape in the 1990s. After longtime coordinator Joy Wallens-Penford's death from cancer in March 2020, the event took a hiatus until August of that year, when the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance rebooted Gallery Walk in the form of a locally filmed video series. Later, organizers added an option for in-person, socially distanced art viewing in keeping with COVID-19 protocols. Events were held the first Friday of each month through December 2020.
Scaggs said with more people eligible for vaccination against COVID-19 and warmer weather allowing for outdoor gatherings, May seemed like a good time to bring back Gallery Walk.
“All these stars are aligning in a way that will allow for us to have a reasonably safe and responsible, in-person event,” she said. “There feels to be a sort of momentum, of us catching a glimpse of what life might be like post-COVID. So we’re really trying to focus that kind of energy for this event.”
Stephanie Bonin, executive director of the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance, said she hopes Gallery Walk serves as a platform for inviting people to safely reconnect.
“Our downtown has always been here, and our stores have been open for a while, but maybe what’s missing has been a real, clear invitation to come be in the community,” Bonin said.
New to Gallery Walk is Artful Streets, comprised of “Pop-Up Art Stations” where the community is invited to take part in different art forms centered on a theme each month. Artful Streets is organized through a collaboration with the Human Connection Project, an arts initiative founded by Erin Maile O’Keefe, who is also one of the organizers of Gallery Walk.
“A big intention for me is to really both create opportunities for our community to express themselves through the arts … and also, that this is a place where we can create a more equitable lens on our whole community,” O’Keefe said. “This is where I’m very excited about collaborating with a variety of organizations, and organizations that don’t necessarily have brick-and-mortars downtown.”
Friday’s installment of Artful Streets will be “What’s the Word?” through which participants are invited to honor and celebrate one another with words, according to organizers. Gallery Walk attendees are invited to make collages of words with artist Michael Albert at Pliny Park, write cyanotype postcards with artist Evie Lovett and take part in an open poetry mic hosted by local authors Diana Whitney and Shanta Lee Gander with youth poet Emma Paris. River Gallery School will have its antique letterpress in operation.
Poems Around Town, a project by Write Action and the Brattleboro Literary Festival, has placed poems written over the past year into downtown shop and restaurant windows, and attendees can pick up a guide at the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance Gallery Walk table on Elliot Street. The project, initially only planned through the end of April, has been extended for inclusion in Gallery Walk.
Another new component is a collaboration with Main Street Flea, organized by Julia Tadlock and KariLyn McLellan.
Tadlock said this is a good opportunity for merchants without a brick-and-mortar storefront. She said there will be 22 merchants at this week’s Gallery Walk, and that there are over 40 signed up to participate the next six Fridays.
“Especially now, that we’ve all been cloistered away for a year-plus, to see the result of that time produced in this work,” she said. She noted that she personally channeled much of her stress and anxiety into working with her hands. She has a small jewelry business, First Water Jewelry.
“That was really healing for me, and to be able to share that with people and admire what they’ve done and reflect on their journey in this time through their goods, I think it’s a step toward quote-unquote normalcy.”
Molly Es, stage name of local musician Molly Steinmark, who will perform Friday as M.O.D. (Molly On Drums) with Darby Wolf on keyboard and key bass and Dan Thomas on guitar, said this will be her first in-person performance since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m really looking forward to just be able to share music and to share energy with people in real time and have that,” she said. “There is this magical thing that happens that we take for granted as listeners that go to see shows, the energy that gets created, it brings us all on a similar vibration, really.”
More information about Gallery Walk, including a full schedule, can be found via the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance Facebook page, @DowntownBrattleboro.