May 27, 2014, BY CORI URBAN, The Republican
There are three new art galleries in the Turners Falls section of this Franklin County town, but what they contain is visible only from the street.
The “Avenue A Storefront Galleries,” located at 112, 110 and 106 Avenue A, are dressing up the wide main street, keeping the empty storefronts hidden from the view of passersby.
“It looks like we’ve got three galleries in town, which we do. But they are not the kind you can go in,” said Suzanne K. LoManto, director of Turners Falls RiverCulture which has taken on the gallery project.
The empty, dirty storefronts were eyesores, she said, with the most egregious display being the fading and tattered signs of failed businesses that still hung in the windows. “It reminded people of what used to be here,” she lamented.
Some businesses failed when traffic into town was rerouted because of bridge construction between Gill and Montague. “New businesses said, ‘I’m not coming in (to Turners Falls) because nobody can (easily) get to me,” LoManto said. “It was a mess.”
Erin K. MacLean, a proprietor of the store Loot, began the conversation about what could be done with the empty storefronts near the village’s main intersection. And with the opening of the bridge, business prospects seem brighter.
RiverCulture got permission to renovate the bay window areas of the storefronts to display art and make the downtown area more appealing. “If those (gallery) spaces do their job, they will be rented,” LoManto said. “It’s best for the town to have businesses there.”
In the meantime, regional artists are invited to show their work in the storefront galleries; exhibits will be up for about a month.
“RiverCulture hopes to encourage people to have more art in their lives, to make art and to enjoy art, looking at art and looking at how art impacts the quality of life,” said LoManto, a trained painter who also works with video and the encaustic process. “Art is an expression, so when you sit and look at something someone else has done, you’re making a connection and developing a visual image as a form of communication.”
She sees it as her job to put things into the community that will help people develop the “language” of art. “The way you learn the language is by looking and seeing,” she said. “I like to look at other people’s gestures. When an artist makes a mark, he or she means something by it.”
LoManto hopes the storefront space will be used by people who see themselves as artists, even if they are not considered professional artists.
The inaugural exhibit in the storefronts include sculptures by Turners Falls artist Jack Nelson, photographs by students and faculty at Hallmark Institute of Photography in Turners Falls and mosaics by participants in the Turners Falls Women’s Resource Center.
They will be on display until mid June when the exhibit will change to coincide with the Third Thursday RiverCulture event, “Knights, Camera, Action!”
Nelson said the storefront galleries—which are viewed strictly from the outside—are a good opportunity to display his work. “These were kind of blighted” storefronts, vacant for at least a year, he said. “This presentation is very upscale, and it looks very nice.”
Two of the storefronts feature works displayed on white walls on hinges, creating the feeling of “little white jewel boxes,” LoManto said. A taupe curtain backs the third.
The storefront that sits on the corner of the avenue and an alleyway was once the “Absolutely Fabulous” salon. The word “Fabulous” was purposefully left on the glass door.
In fact, that’s the word some people use to describe the newly created galleries.
Two of the displays are illuminated at night, “so when people walk downtown…they can enjoy art,” LoManto said, adding that the nighttime displays give a feeling of safety and liveliness.
The community effort to make the galleries a reality is for the community, she said, “and the community has embraced it.”
Works on display are for sale: Call (413) 863-1390 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.