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Summer is just around the corner, and some galleries will be open to the public again

(Somerville Wire) – With the summer approaching, art galleries in Somerville are expecting to return to something slightly like normalcy, with many having been closed for a period of time, during the pandemic. While many artists have struggled during the pandemic, Debra Olin, gallery coordinator for Brickbottom Artists Association, said that the public is ready and eager for more creative programming. In other ways, artists have risen to the occasion and blossomed, during this period of uncertainty.

“I think for artists—it’s changed,” said Olin. “I think artists sometimes just really thrive in detrimental situations. It gives you a lot of resilience and strength, and a lot of things can come out of it. All the social and racial unrest that happened during this time, maybe coincidentally, maybe not—I think it’s brought a lot of problems to the surface that need to be dealt with. Artists have insight to share about those things. In terms of the creative spirit, I think it’s strong. In terms of the nuts and bolts of doing it, [conditions] have made it harder. Artists have changed: the mediums have changed and the way of presenting themselves have changed.”

The Brickbottom Gallery is in the lobby of a residential building, a situation that has created a built-in audience. Because there is a significant older population there, the artists behind the gallery felt that they needed to be cautious. When the pandemic hit, the gallery closed to the public but remained open for the building’s residents. They also created a “makers’ space,” where they invited artists to come in and develop projects. Some made masks, working at stations in the gallery, and people would come down from their apartments to chat, use their laptops, or play the ukulele.

“It was really a savior for us to have this place. A lot of the people here live alone and had really no outside contact,” said Olin. She added, “There were three people making masks, so that was probably the biggest thing. People would pop in for a day or two and work on collages, just wanting to do something different or have time to socialize.”

Susan Berstler, director of the Nave Gallery, said that the space has been closed since last year. Located in the Clarendon Hill Presbyterian Church, the building also houses a daycare, leading many to be concerned about the safety of the children. They did host a virtual version of the Somerville Toy Camera Festival, and this summer, they will be holding a hybrid exhibit, both online and in person. The focus of this upcoming show will be about art people have created during the pandemic. Berstler said that spectators miss being physically present to see work.

“It does make a difference, in a physical gallery, at least, what you hang things next to,” said Berstler. “You can make a piece of art look good or look bad, depending on what you put next to it. They do start this little dialog with each other, when they’re hanging up on the wall. One of the problems with the format that we used online is it made everything look more similar, in terms of size, than it does in reality. It’s really hard looking at things online.”

Washington Street Art Gallery has been closed since March 2020, but its studios have remained open. Director Lee Kilpatrick said that some people may have used the studios less, out of fear of being exposed to the virus, but the usage overall stayed pretty typical. For Kilpatrick, a photographer, the subject material of his work changed during the pandemic, as he was forced to seek out different focuses.

“My subject matter is people, candid, documentary, fine art styled photography,” said Kilpatrick. “It’s also not posed; it’s more like things that happen around me, or I go to places where people are, people I know. That was limited quite a bit, because people were trying to stay away from each other and stay isolated, to not catch or spread COVID. So that definitely was a difference. I ended up in different places than I would normally be. I would go for a walk in a wooded area, by myself, and then I ended up doing a lot of photography of that.”

Berstler said that she is hoping that the Nave will reopen in the summer, most likely in July. Looking at this projected date, she said that she feels hopeful.

“I feel that people are missing looking at art in person,” said Berstler. “I feel that they’re missing the community that we have around our space. I feel that Somerville, in general, is missing its art and its artists. … People are also trying to figure out how to support the artists they know and the local artists. I would not be surprised if more things sold. Those are all good things.”

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Shira Laucharoen is assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and assistant editor and staff reporter of the Somerville Wire.

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