Thursday May 3, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- It's not every Friday night you get to experience a gallery exhibit opening among children's clothes, computer salesmen, decadent carrot cake, and the occasional hardware supplies and state-of-the-art vacuum cleaners.

But patrons of Pittsfield's First Friday Artswalk, which kicks off its inaugural Friday tomorrow evening, will be able to experience art in 25 different venues ranging from the more classic gallery walls of the Berkshire Museum and the Ferrin Gallery to the uncommon spaces like Mad Macs, Inc. and Paul Rich and Sons Home Furnishings and Designs on North Street.

Nicholas Whitman, author of ‘The Colonial Theatre: A Pittsfield Resurrection,’ will exhibit photographs at the Colonial Theatre, at 111 South
Nicholas Whitman, author of ‘The Colonial Theatre: A Pittsfield Resurrection,’ will exhibit photographs
at the Colonial Theatre, at 111 South St. in Pittsfield, beginning Friday at the Artswalk. (Nicholas Whitman / Courtesy of Artswalk)

Mary McGinnis, owner of Mary's Carrot Cake shop on Union Street and one of the driving forces behind bringing the Artswalk to Pittsfield with local artist and Gallery 25 manager Leo Mazzeo, said having First Fridays will make it easier for more artists, who perhaps don't fit in the higher end local galleries, to gain exposure.

"So many people come in asking to show work here and have to be on waiting list," said McGinnis, who opened Gallery 25, in a shared a space with her cake shop. Gallery 25 will show a collection of block prints and figure drawings of Michael Vincent Bushy for First Friday. "There's that gap where there is no place to show your work unless you rent a space. There were more artists than there were venues."

McGinnis and Mazzeo said feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from local businesses and the arts community.

"There's a sense of community, from our little cake shop right up to Berkshire Museum," Mazzeo said. "We're trying to connect all the dots in our regional arts community."

Artist Peg Dotchin, of Lenox, will show a collection of oil and acrylic paintings titled "All the Children," at the children's store Treehouse on North Street. Dotchin said she was inspired to show her paintings of children's faces after visiting the store and seeing that offers playgroups and discussions for parents and children.

"The multicultural assemble of children's' faces represents the whole idea of what they do there," Dotchin said.

Expressionist artist Kate Knapp, who teaches out of her studio in Housatonic, said she was inspired by the feeling of a Parisian café when she chose the group of 14 pieces on exhibit at Brix Wine Bar & Bistro. The work, which is primarily of still life and landscapes, focus on the use of color to express the artists' point of view.

"The reason I'm inspired to paint anything is because I love it," Knapp said. "Love is a major motivator in my life. It gives me joy, a feeling of energy. If I am painting well enough, I will give viewers the same feeling I had."

From Nicholas Whitman's photography on display at the Colonial Theatre lobby to the annual Berkshire Art Association Fellowship Show at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts, the artswalk aims to reach art lovers of all levels of appreciation.

"You might find you want to just go to one venue and stay there the whole time. You might strike up a conversation with the artist or gallery director," Mazzeo said.

Pittsfield artist Joanie Palano Ciolfi said being part of downtown Pittsfield's revitalization is a great opportunity for her. Palano Ciolfi's contemporary, colorful oil paintings will be on display in the windows of Paul Rich and Sons Home Furnishings and Design store.

"I feel like it was something about spring, and trees blossoming that gave me the energy to be much looser with my work, which is new for the public here to see," she said. "And Paul Rich and Sons, they are terrific people. They have exquisite furniture. I feel very fortunate to pair my work with their furniture."

The yearlong Artswalk will rotate exhibits monthly and leaves the individual themes of the artists' work up to the venues, Mazzeo said.

"It's going to keep building -- more venues, more opportunities for artists," he said. " We are also envisioning its success will build more dedicated gallery spaces."



What: First Friday artswalks

When: Every First Friday of the month, year-round. The inaugural event will take place on Friday from 5 to 8 p.m. with receptions for each show.

Where: 25 different venues along North and South streets in Pittsfield, capped-off with a Berkshires Jazz event at Baba Louie's. Exhibits stay in place for the month.

Admission: Free

Schedule: www.berkshiresweek.com

Information: firstfridaysartswalk.com