Stroll through creativity at Pittsfield's Artswalk

Saturday September 8, 2012

You don't need a clairvoyant to tell you the future of the growing First Fridays Artswalk in downtown Pittsfield, but having one at Friday's event was a draw for those out and about.

A small line formed in front of Joanne Spies at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts, where the medium read fortunes using cards inspired by "Moby-Dick" and its characters.

Spies' clairvoyant gig was just one of many activities paired with the artwork on display at September's First Fridays Artswalk, an event that transforms downtown businesses into art galleries by filling them with local artists' works.

"You can discover new art for your neighbors, but also new shops and restaurants, too," said Megan Whilden, Pittsfield's director of cultural development. "It provides artists a lot of unconventional venues to share their work with the public."

What started with 22 vendors at May's first Artswalk has grown to about 30 as of Friday's festivities, said Mary McGinnis, the event's chairwoman. Alongside artist Leo Mazzeo, and assisted by Whilden, she started Artswalk to grant requests by artists to showcase their hard work.

"I'd have people banging on the doors to show their artwork here," McGinnis said at her downtown business Mary Carrot Cake, 21 Union St. "We're in a good location."

This month, McGinnis' business showcased work from painters Bruce MacDonald and Scott Taylor. Each one's works lined a wall in the bakery. Groups huddled around paintings to admire them while enjoying a tangy punch and sweet slices of carrot cake.

"I work in a studio upstairs, and this is great to get me out of the studio and show my work," Taylor said.

No theme or undercurrent seemed to dictate the painters, drawers, photographers, or multimedia artists, with the pieces ranging from beautiful to brooding to completely abstract.

Sophia Lee's photography was featured at Art on No. 311 North St. The upstairs section designated to the featured artist was filled with about a dozen people taking in her photos.

"It's good to blend businesses and the arts, and that opportunity didn't exist before," Lee said.

First Fridays Artswalks have generated at least $40,000 in revenue, McGinnis said, because there's also the opportunity to shop while enjoying the art. Many attendees had bags of items they had bought, proving the event is a boon for business, too.

Spice Dragon, at 297 North St., was one of about five bars or restaurants downtown that had art with a side of food Friday, upping the ante for a normally busy Friday night.

"More people will come in to look at art, then grab a drink or a bite to eat," said Joyce Bernstein, the owner of Spice Dragon. "There are a lot of really nice people walking downtown on First Fridays, too."

On Thursday, the Berkshire Money Management donated $4,000, securing the event's future to run through at least 2013, including the winter months when some businesses -- like McGinnis' own Mary Carrot Cake -- would close.

"We're lower key in those months, but I'd stay open for this," McGinnis said.


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