Gallery Walk goes digital

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BRATTLEBORO — In light of safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers of Gallery Walk hope to bring the sense of community offered by the long-held arts tradition to the digital platform.

"Gallery Walk is still here," said Erin Scaggs, vice president of the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance and chairperson of the committee that puts on Gallery Walk. "We're really hopeful that people who are interested will reach out to us to get involved in some capacity."

Starting Friday, a virtual Gallery Walk will take place through a series of four 15-to-30-minute videos, posted each Friday this month to Facebook and aired on Brattleboro Community Television at 6 p.m. Local hosts, including Shanta Lee and MacLean Gander and Brattleboro Union High School freshmen Priya Kitzmiller and Xiaohan Brunton, will guide viewers through Gallery Walk attractions and other downtown sights.

"We wanted to evoke some sort of sentimental reaction to seeing these familiar places," Scaggs said. "Just seeing Main Street and Elliot Street — just, look, it's still there. The flowers are still beautiful."

The videos will include sights such as resident Dick DeGray tending to the flowers he planted downtown and tours of local landmarks such as The Stone Church. Another video was filmed at the Brattleboro home of Zara Bode of The Sweetback Sisters country music group.

Scaggs said a big focus is to honor diversity and inclusion.

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"We recognize that as it stands, this conversation is largely held by middle to upper income, cisgendered white folks. We would love to change that by creating space and opportunity for a more diverse group of folks to join and have a voice in the conversation, to join the committee or be part of the project in any way that feels beneficial to them," Scaggs said. "We are just at the beginning of the process of intentionally working on shifting the culture of Gallery Walk to one that centers diverse voices and artists and venues. We want to approach this issue in a way that is responsible and ethical."

She said Gallery Walk organizers have begun by reaching out to Black, indigenous and people of color individuals and organizations involved in racial justice. Organizers are also working to encourage participation that is more diverse in terms of age, economic class, sexuality, gender identity and disability status, Scaggs said.

This will be the first Gallery Walk since Joy Wallens-Penford, who founded the event in 1995, died in March after a brief battle with cancer.

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Scaggs said the idea for a virtual event, in light of the pandemic, came about through discussions among members of the Arts Council of Windham County, the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance and community members.

"We landed on the virtual Gallery Walk because lots of museums and galleries across the country, probably across the world have been experimenting with the virtual format," Scaggs said.

Greg Worden, also a founder of Gallery Walk and owner of Vermont Artisan Designs on Main Street with his wife, Suzy, said he is looking forward to showing people that the Brattleboro arts scene is still alive.

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"A lot of people just never stopped making (art) even though they had to be somewhat isolated — sometimes that's the life of artists, so it's nice to let them display their work downtown," he said.

The featured artist at Vermont Artisan Designs this month is painter Paul Stone. Worden said that Shanta Lee and MacLean Gander interviewed Stone for a Gallery Walk video.

Vermont Artisan Designs will also be open for visitors, with guidelines such as requiring masks and providing hand sanitizer and gloves.

Shanta Lee Gander, who describes herself as a multi-faceted professional and artist and is a creative non-fiction and poetry candidate at Vermont College of Fine Arts, said the current restrictions around social gatherings bring the issue of high-speed internet access to the forefront. She noted that artists rely increasingly on the internet to share their work.

"It's important that our internet, phone service and all of that need to be very strong," she said. "We shouldn't be afraid of it. We need to bring Brattleboro into the future."

Gallery Walk can be viewed on the event's Facebook page, @brattleborogallerywalk and on BCTV. Scaggs said anyone looking to join the conversation about the future of Gallery Walk should email her at erinrobb2980@yahoo.com. She said the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance is looking for people to aid in fundraising, brainstorming, social media and promotion, graphic design and being on-screen hosts. The alliance is accepting donations via its Venmo account, @DBA100.


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