Home News and Features Rotating Art Exhibits Connect People and Build Community

Rotating Art Exhibits Connect People and Build Community

Artists Sam Colt, left, and Katie O’Rourke are among 20 artists and businesses featured in this month’s Montpelier Art Walk Friday, April 7, from 4 to 8 p.m. Colt and O’Rourke, who work in a variety of different media, have been sharing the “Upstairs Studio” at 24 Main Street (above the Drawing Board) for the past six years. Photo by John Lazenby.
“For so many in our community, making art is one of the most satisfying and central ways to express ourselves, move through life, meet our neighbors and friends, and celebrate the place that we live,” said Emily Seiffert, deputy director of the North Branch Nature Center, in response to a question about why the nature center hosts art exhibits. 

“Some folks might be surprised that North Branch Nature Center is home to an art gallery,” Seiffert said, “but with a mission of connecting people with the natural world, we love to support all the different ways that people enjoy connecting with nature. … With spring arriving, Vermont’s woods, fields, and neighborhoods offer infinite subject matter to artists and art appreciators alike.”

Seiffert and the nature center are not alone: Artists are plentiful in central Vermont, and dozens of places in Montpelier regularly host rotating exhibits that give area artists the chance to share their work and residents and visitors the chance to see it.

Art Walk Boosts Local Art and Culture

When it comes to rotating exhibits that adorn café, restaurant, store, gallery, and other downtown walls, Montpelier Alive makes it happen. The first Friday of each even-numbered month (February, April, June, August, October, and December), it sponsors Art Walk, an evening when venues host openings for exhibits that stay up for a month or two.

“It’s Montpelier Alive’s goal to promote and celebrate this aspect of the town and to put Montpelier on the map as an arts destination,” said executive director Katie Trautz. “It generates a sense of team spirit among our community members, artists, and business owners.”

Yvonne Baab, who for the past decade has coordinated Art Walk — which has been around since 2007 and is a largely volunteer undertaking — said before the pandemic, about 27 to 30 venues participated each time. Since the pandemic, it has been about 20, although she expects that number to increase.

“The art on our walls is a hugely important part of our café,” said North Branch Café owner Lauren Parker, whose State Street café has participated in nearly every Art Walk for the last ten years. “It sets the environment of the space and brings a new atmosphere. … It invites the customer to sit with the artist’s insight and passion.”

Artist Susan Calza stands in her gallery beside one of the works in her current exhibit, “Our Demons are Translucent.” Photo by Tom McKone.
Multi-media artist Susan Calza, whose Main Street gallery bears her name, and who jokes that hers is “the smallest gallery in the smallest capital in one of the smallest states,” emphasizes the importance of Art Walk. “If Art Walk wasn’t happening, my gallery would be dead,” she said. “Art Walk gets people walking around and it really contributes to community because a lot of the venues that aren’t galleries show artwork.”

Calza said that she doesn’t break even at the gallery; however, it provides exposure and it helps her get small grants and artist residencies to support her work.

Artist-run Cooperative Draws Large Art Walk Crowds 

Glen Coburn Hutcheson, a founder and one of 19 co-owners of The Front, the artist-run cooperative gallery on Barre Street, echoes Calza’s comments about finances. While members sell some works at the gallery, he said, many artists participate for the chance to show their work and to be part of an artist community. Hutcheson said that the area does not have a large enough “collecting community” to provide much financial support for visual artists, which is one reason visitors are important.

The Front runs 12 shows a year. To match the Art Walk calendar, in the even-numbered months, it hosts group exhibits in which all members have the opportunity to show at least one of their works. In the odd months, it features solo shows; members have the chance for a solo show about once every three years.

“Hyacinth,” Melora Kennedy’s oil-on-canvas painting, is in the new multi-artist exhibit at The Front. Image courtesy of The Front.
Hutcheson, whose day job is nearby at the Drawing Board (which also hosts exhibits), said most weekends there is a modest flow of visitors into the gallery; however, over the four hours they open for an Art Walk evening, they may get a hundred.

Artists Katie O’Rourke and Sam Colt, who have a studio on Main Street above the Drawing Board, named their space Upstairs Studio and began participating in Art Walk to encourage other artists and the public to visit.

“As full-time working artists, the studio can be a bit isolating, and Art Walk is the on-ramp for people seeking a little mystery in action,” O’Rourke said. “Everyone who comes through our door seems to be a creative thinker or maker, and we appreciate hearing what they’re up to.”

Twenty Art Exhibits Open April 7

The next Art Walk is on April 7, and if you stand on the corner of State and Main that evening, you will be within a short stroll of 20 art openings. Many are solo shows, but others include a group of artists. In all, the work of several dozen artists will be on display that evening and for weeks to follow.

Barre Street is busier than usual during Art Walks. Starting on Main Street, after The Front, you come to openings at T.W. Wood Gallery, the Center for Arts and Learning (which has two shows), the Art Resource Association, and the Montpelier Senior Activity Center.

One of the more prestigious venues is the Vermont Supreme Court Gallery, which this month holds an exhibit by Kate Burnim, a former co-owner of The Front. A little beyond the Statehouse, on Baldwin Street, is the Vermont Natural Resources Council, which has paintings by river ecologist and artist Gretchen Alexander. The council features “artists and art that complement our mission to protect and enhance our natural environments. We’ve been able to bring together the art and environmental communities, and it has proven to be a very natural symbiosis,” said Alex Connizzo, the organization’s contact for Art Walk.

Paint pour art from Amanda Champagne’s exhibit, opening at Althea’s Attic on Friday, April 7. Image courtesy of Art Walk/Montpelier Alive. 
Back on State Street, four additional venues will host exhibits: Althea’s Attic Boutique, AWE, the newly relocated Cheshire Cat, and the Hexum Gallery, a new contemporary art gallery, which is also holding a reception for its inaugural exhibition. The Hexum exhibit, “Wild Things,” “brings together a selection of twenty-one pieces from nineteen artists exploring the relationships between nature, fantasy, eroticism, and spirituality.”

“The Cheshire Cat loves the Art Walk events,” said co-owner Joyce LaRosa. “It’s not just the evening itself, but the entire month that brings our clients and us joy.”

Ten venues on Main Street will hold openings, including a couple where you can buy a meal. In addition to those already mentioned, others are Three Penny Taproom, the Artisans Hand, the Basement Teen Center, Rabble-Rouser Chocolate and Crafts, and the Bethany Center for Spirituality through the Arts gallery. The Bethany Center is presenting Jorge Carlos Alvarez’s photographs of Mexicans and Central Americans at the U.S. border and migrant workers in the Northeast.

The Basement Teen Center’s exhibit comprises linocuts, digital art, acrylic paintings, watercolors, buttons, drawings, and more by multiple artists. Image courtesy of Art Walk/Montpelier Alive.

Details Are in the Booklet 

The pocket-sized Art Walk booklets, which give addresses, names of exhibits and artists, and the hours of each opening and ongoing exhibit, are available at each participating venue. They are viewable on Montpelier Alive’s website and the Montpelier Art Walk Facebook page.

Since Art Walk is a downtown evening event, not all venues with exhibits participate: In some cases, it’s difficult to stay open late (as with the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, which runs rotating exhibits in both the adult and children’s libraries), and others are not close enough to be part of the evening stroll (as with the nature center, a mile north on Elm Street).

The nature center’s exhibit of Hilary Ann Love Glass’s illustrations and prints includes explorations of “the nature and relationships of creatures both real and imagined.” The three library exhibits include PoemCity-themed woven paper hearts made with the Danish craft of “Julehjerter”; art and poems by local sixth graders; and “Home of the Future” by Montessori students in response to earlier Fermata exhibits by European students.

“I hope you will walk around the Art Walk,” North Branch Café’s Lauren Parker told me. “The community comes out and it is a night that touches your soul.”