To help then cope with the economic hardship imposed by the pandemic, Amherst has awarded $4,000 to local artists through a contest that has produced a rich crop of paintings, prints, poems, songs and more.
The Amherst Center Cultural District (ACCD), which has made the awards from a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant, will distribute the prize monies to 36 artists, including overall winner Violet Kitchen of Shutesbury, an illustrator and writer who created “Postcards from the Pandemic,” a comic about using mail art to stay connected during lockdown.
“This was designed to get some money into the hands of artists who have been hurting,” said Eric Broudy, the ACCD’s vice president and one of the judges for the contest, held this summer. Broudy noted that the grant money had originally been earmarked for a spring “ArtWeek” event in town that had to be canceled, but that the Mass Cultural Council “very generously allowed us to re-purpose the money to help artists directly.”
The summer contest, open to any artist who lives or previously lived in Amherst, or has exhibited in the town, required artists to submit work related in some way to the impact of COVID-19. Ann Tweedy, the ACCD president, said in a statement that the submissions all hit that benchmark: “The artists’ response was incredible and will exist online as a time capsule of the many effects the pandemic has had on our lives.”
For instance, Lynn Peterfreund of Leverett, who draws daily as a form of diary keeping, won second place for two-dimensional art for her illustration of the late Dr. Frank Gabrin, an emergency room doctor from New Jersey who in late March became the first such physician in the country to die of the virus. Because of equipment shortages, Gabrin had been forced to reuse a facemask several times while treating multiple COVID-19 patients.
Michael Osgood of Amherst, meantime, who won third place in the film/video category, has created “Hugging Me, Hugging You,” an interweaving of two short videos that show him and a friend appearing to hug. But the two ghostly figures can’t really connect: The manipulated video “creates an intimate moment artificially,” writes Osgood, who says Zoom and other pandemic-era communication tools “do not allow us to touch, feel, or physically be with the people we love.”
Other prize winners include Madeline Bonn, artistic director of Amherst Ballet, who contributed a short, funny music video, “Pas de Toilet Paper,” about a dancer’s encounter with a rare roll of bath tissue, and Katryna and Nerissa Nields of Northampton, the sisters and singers. With help from musical friends such as Chris Smither and Dar Williams, they recorded a revised version of “America the Beautiful,” with lyrics examining the country’s continued racial problems.
Broudy says he and others involved with the contest hope to stage a live exhibit of all the art somewhere in town next spring. Artwork can currently be viewed online at amherstcenterculturaldistrict.org.
And as part what Broudy calls a “twofer exhibition series,” Amherst has also opened a downtown “window art” show from Oct. 1-22. The event, produced by Amherst’s monthly Arts Night Plus program, will feature work by over 40 area artists displayed in the windows of a wide range of downtown restaurants, banks, stores, Gallery A3, the Amherst Cinema and even empty storefronts.
Broudy says about 90 windows or window spaces will be used. “It was a challenge to match the size of the artwork to the windows, but I think we’ve worked it out,” he noted.
The goal, he and others say, is to fight the isolation the pandemic has created and make downtown Amherst into an extended art gallery, which will in turn ideally encourage viewers to get food from local restaurants and patronize other businesses. “Everyone’s struggling, so hopefully [the exhibit] can have an impact and help us support one another,” he said.
Steve Pfarrer can be reached at [email protected]