In Downtown Winooski, Artists "Pop Up" to Turn Vacant Storefronts Into Galleries
State of the Arts
"Winooski Downtown Time Fusion" by Dan Higgins
There aren’t many walls in Vermont big enough for Lynn Rupe’s abstract paintings. But last Saturday she hung a 13-by-6-foot piece — a puzzle of interlocking roads, drifting dollar bills and other tangled shapes — on the wall of a Winooski Falls Way retail space that has been vacant since 2008.
This Friday that empty storefront, and four others along Main Street in Winooski, will come alive with the work — much of it large scale like Rupe’s — of more than 40 Vermont artists, transforming the much-maligned roundabout area into the Winooski Pop-Up Gallery District. And it will stay that way until the end of July.
On a recent afternoon, Ric Kasini Kadour, director of the art production and publishing company Kasini House, gives a visitor a tour of the galleries. It was his crazy idea to transform not one but five vacant storefronts into an entire art district when, last March, Opportunities Credit Union marketing manager Jodi Harrington asked him for help in attracting visitors to downtown Winooski.
Accordingly, on the tour Kadour makes sure to cut through — and show off — the enormous, woefully underused parking lot tucked into the block between Main Street and Winooski Falls Way. He’s just led an impromptu workshop with the exhibiting artists on pricing their work. The pop-up project, he says, is as much about offering pragmatic business advice to artists as it is about drawing visitors to Winooski.
“When all is said and done, they’ll either want to run galleries themselves or hate it so much that they love their gallerists and treat them really well,” quips Kadour. That’s because the artists are essentially running their own collectives, deciding where to hang their work and how to price it, as well as staffing the galleries in shifts.
About 90 applicants responded to Kasini House’s call to artists earlier this spring. About half were accepted. Rather than distribute the artists among the five galleries by their chosen medium or some common theme in their work, Kadour let them organize themselves. “It just kind of worked out,” he says. “It was bizarre.”
As a result, the galleries evolved organically and are defined more by the artists’ temperaments than anything else. The “quiet, painterly types” — such as Robert Waldo Brunelle Jr. and Jean Cannon — have created a thoughtful space at the Stoplight Gallery. The “industrialists” — painter Will Patlove, who stretches his canvases into three-dimensional artworks, and Timothy Cohalan, whose installations include floating glaciers and tiny clay dwellings — are in the Top Gallery. The potters, naturally, are together in Pop-Up Pottery Gallery.
“From a curatorial point of view, there was almost no curation, in the sense that what you see in the gallery is really a group of artists working together,” Kadour says.
There’s plenty to see. Recent Johnson State College graduate Tara Goreau’s “The Garden of Manifest Destiny” hangs in the Welcome Gallery, located on the east side of the roundabout. In Goreau’s triptych — a reinterpretation of Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” — she uses imagery that is both hilarious and disturbing to comment on the destructive aftermath of the colonization of the Americas. A white man tweaks a black woman’s nipple; people drown in a river of oil; a pair of naked women give birth, their babies sliding down ironing boards that shoot from between their legs.
That gallery also houses the “Made in Winooski” exhibition by Dan Higgins, Leslie Fry, Kathleen Schneider, Bill Davison and Jane Kramer. All but Kramer (who lives in Burlington) are longtime Winooski residents. Higgins’ work in particular has been informed by the city’s recurring makeovers, but each contributes pieces relevant to the city.
Schneider’s delicate, almost floral folded paper airplanes are modeled after the F-35 fighter jets potentially scheduled for deployment in Burlington next year. Fry’s bas-reliefs of trucks carrying human heads evoke movement and transformation — not to mention the constant flow of heavy traffic that is central to downtown Winooski. Higgins’ photographs document the changing character of the Onion City, from life before urban renewal to portraits of new residents — some of them refugees — and their families.
So, does the advent of this Pop-Up Gallery District signal the moment Winooski stops being on the verge and finally arrives? “I hope not,” says Higgins. “What’s exciting about this place is the change.”