Thursday June 7, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON -- Stroll around downtown Great Barrington and help recreate a sense of community by joining in the Southern Berkshire Cham ber's new summer program, "Thursday Nights Out."

Starting tonight from 6 to 8, residents and visitors can experience downtown Great Bar rington on foot and see it for more than just a place to stop and have dinner once a month or run to for the occasional birthday present, according to Betsy Andrus, executive director of the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.

"We thought, what if we created a very light event, nothing that would stop people from moving around town, but would create the opportunity for them to move around town," Andrus said. "A little something extra for them to do."

Every Thursday stretching from June through August, the town and the chamber will hold a different themed community festival. For tonight's inaugural "Thursday Night Out" a Gallery Walk will highlight the work of local artists. More than 12 different exhibits will be on display in downtown business lobbies, making it easier for residents to take in work they might not otherwise experience.

"Some of our galleries are tucked away up high on the second floor," Andrus said. "It's hard for people to seek them out, and it's not what they want to do. They want to stroll around town with the other people."

As opposed to a traditionally hung exhibit on gallery walls, Andrus said these exhibits will be using easels or the furniture in the business' lobbies to showcase the work -- nothing extensive, just a simple display of the work locals are doing every day.

Patricia Navarino, founder, co-director and instructor at the Renaissance Art School in Great Barrington, has been helping organize and facilitate the Gallery Walk. More than 20 artists from the school, which opened in Great Barrington almost two years ago, will be on exhibit at the Lee Bank for the community event.

The school, which tutors students ranging in ages 7 to 18, offers private lessons and free, unlimited studio time to aspiring artists. On exhibit for "Thursday Night Out" will be work from seventh-grader Kendall Tollard, who will show an unfinished observational painting to explain the kind of drawing and painting techniques the school teaches. Renaissance also plans to show student Julie LePredost's cut paper piece using mixed media, which was recently honored in the Scholastic Art and Writing Competition.

"The gallery stroll brings to the forefront the importance of art in the community," Navar ino said. "It also helps to dispel the myth about the starving artists. We have to make more people aware of the importance of art with these kind of community events."

For the remaining Thursdays of the summer program, the strolls will incorporate a range of events -- whether visitors are looking to enjoy an evening alone, or with friends or family, Andrus said. From the Fairview Hospital Survival Kit Scavenger Hunt on June 14 -- where families can gain pieces to an outdoor survival kit by picking up clues at local downtown business -- to the Quilters Gild exhibit on Aug. 9 -- where organizers hope to be able to hang quilts in business store fronts, visible from the sidewalk -- every Thursday is made to encourage walking around town and seeing neighbors face-to-face.

For those concerned about construction in Great Bar rington, Andrus said not to worry for "Thursday Nights Out." Crews generally finish work for the week, and have everything cleaned up and off of the road, by Thursday at 6 p.m. Andrus also said that she does not believe this event will have to compete with Pittsfield's popular Third Thurs days summer community event. Streets in Great Barrington will not be closed for this -- with the exception of the annual Great Barrington Fire Department's Car show held on Aug. 2.

"We're really shooting for a different crowd of people," An drus said. "We're trying to get people back into the businesses and restaurants and trying to make it a very mild, light event."

Andrus said she hopes people will not only come out and support "Thursday Nights Out" but also spread the word.

"Really participate in the community," she said. "If you don't participate in your own community, pretty soon it's not there to support you."



What: Thursday Nights Out

Where: Throughout downtown Great Barrington

When: Tonight from 6 to 8

Weekly through Aug. 23

Thursday Nights Out dates:

Upcoming events include

June 14 -- Fairview Hospital Survival Kit Scavenger Hunt

June 28 -- Antique and art
dealers antique appraisals, Dewey Hall, Sheffield

July 12 -- The Mason Library hosts an evening of family movies

Admission: Free

Information: (413) 528-4284, www.southernberkshirechamber.com