Berkshires After Dark: Enjoying the Friday Artswalk


PITTSFIELD -- It's the first week of August and I'm just now finding myself on vacation. With any luck, while you're reading this in the Berkshires, I'm somewhere between the surf and the sand of Cape Cod.

Before I left though, I did manage to get out to my second First Fridays Artswalk in downtown Pittsfield. For those of you who have never been, the Artswalk is like the Third Thursdays equivalent for creative, curious, intellectual types. It's less about street food and kids' games and listening to music in the middle of the road and more about observation, conversation and adventure in smaller, more intimate venues with fewer distractions.

First Fridays Artswalks share some of the same qualities I like about Third Thursdays: It's free. I can not only walk over to the event after work, but stroll from venue to venue at my own pace and my own choosing. It's also a great way to run into people you haven't seen in a while, without making specific plans.

There's the convenience of being downtown and being able to stop in for dinner, drinks or dessert along the Artwalk route. Mission Bar & Tapas, for example, has jumped on board offering signature "First Fridays" music gigs and a guest chef. The galleries and art-showing venues also tend to have plenty of complimentary wine, cheese, fruit, bread, crackers and other treats to graze on.

Being a Berkshire native who spent my early years living in downtown Pittsfield, I also like Artswalk for nostalgia's sake. It gives me an excuse, for example, other than buying vacuum cleaner bags, to pop into the Aerus Electrolux store, which also exhibits local artists and has super-nice owners.

This past Friday, I spent the most time at two venues, the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts on Renne Avenue and the new Whitney Center for the Arts on Wendell Avenue.

This month's Artswalk lineup included an incredibly diverse palette: spoken word ahead of this month's Word X Word festival; art techniques using new 3-D printing technology as shown by artist Phil Webster; Susan Geller showing photos along with hosting four-year-old country singer Mason Zink and his band at Treehouse children's boutique, among many other exhibits.

Both spaces included work from the "Islam Contemporary" exhibit. The Whitney also hosted a "meet and greet" that night for this year's Berkshire Residency Exchange artists, which is organized through IS183 Art School of the Berkshires.

Being in both spaces kind of made me feel like I was on vacation already. Surrounding me were bright colors, curious images I had never seen before, and the din of crowds that were full of life and chatter.

For those of you who enjoy people-watching or are single, the art show scene has a way of attracting a denser hub of good-looking people versus, say, a dive bar. I guess it's the nature of a scene focused of visual presentation. There were a lot of fabulous ensembles and funky accessories worn, beautiful faces and great heads of hair to be seen, in addition to what was hanging on the walls. For those of you who are less fancy, don't be intimidated. I happened to show up after work in my casual Friday T-shirt and jeans, a pen and phone my only accessories, and was received just as warmly by the people I talked with.

I'm no art reviewer, but both shows looked great and were a nice reminder to myself that not all contemporary art is wild sculpture or sound installation that I feel is beyond me.

Seeing locally-based artists in a show that features work from as far and wide as Bahrain and Australia made me feel more connected to it. "Islam Contemporary" in particular provides a dynamic perspective of modern Islamic culture through Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

One of the reasons I love the Berkshires is its small-town flair. Where I live, I can walk to farmers' markets and stores, know people by name everywhere I go and feel supported. But being in a small, primarily rural geography can also feel too insular. (C'mon, as a resident, how many times in your life have you said, "Man, I've gotta get out of this town?")

My experiences at First Fridays Artswalk helped to widen my world again. In addition to seeing art from all over the world, I also got to meet people, like the three IS183 Berkshire Residency Exchange artists, who come from places beyond mainland U.S.A.

Sheena Rose has an infectious smile and style. She's from Barbados and blends traditional photography and illustration techniques with digital animation and the social contexts of international city backdrops and island phrases and slang. She can tell you all about the streets of Capetown or her latest sneaker shopping adventure at the Berkshire Mall.

Malik Sajad is from Kashmir and is showing graphic novel-style work at the Whitney right now. Not only can he tell you about his work as a student in London and life in Kashmir, he and Rose have also held residency at Art Omi, aka Omi International Arts Center, in nearby Ghent, N.Y.

Though he's from South Africa, Dolla Sapeta loves the Berkshires. This is his sophomore residency with IS183's BRE.

"It's peaceful," said Sapeta of the county. Some of his art has drawn influence from the civil unrest in Africa and other places.

I got to spend a bit of time talking to the artists, and not just because I'm a reporter. The point of Artswalk is to let artists and audiences interact in a free-flowing format. I also had a great time running into my fellow workaholic friends who also decided to take a break and check out art that night.

If you missed meeting the BRE artists at last Friday's Artswalk, they will give a free presentation of their work tonight at 8 at the Whitney Center for the Arts.

Much of the other First Fridays Artswalk art will continue to be on display this month. Otherwise, you can experience the event and a new round of exhibits yourself on Sept. 6, and I highly recommend that you do.


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