ART Manchester kicks off

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MANCHESTER — The empty storefronts in Downtown Manchester have begun to come alive with pop-up art installations, as part of this summer's ART Manchester Initiative organized by the Southern Vermont Arts Center (SVAC), Manchester Life Magazine, and Cota & Cota, Inc.

These installations, featuring many local artists affiliated with SVAC, have begun to appear in storefronts donated by local building owners. On Friday night, the first open house was held for the summer series at what was formerly Overland Sheepskin Company.

"We had a great group of people, as well as the artist representation here, and we've had people moving in throughout the evening," said Marie Garay of Mountain Media, the publisher of both Manchester Life Magazine and Stratton Magazine. "It's been very welcoming in terms of the local people who are here, and a couple of tourists have come in too. We're very happy about the turnout."

The project, funded by a grant from Cota & Cota, Inc., provides local artists opportunities to both display and sell their work from late June through Labor Day of this year.

"The diversity is wonderful; there's six different artists in here, and some of it is very realistic, others are abstract, so it's a nice combination," said Rupert artist Dona Mara Friedman, who is exhibiting work in the former Overland space. "I love the idea of building the arts in Manchester."

"I moved to Manchester two years ago with my husband and I've been painting for many many years, but I recently got involved with SVAC and started meeting other artists in town," said local artist Kate Franklin. "I was invited to be part of this, and it's been wonderful."

While many artists expressed gratitude for the exposure provided by ART Manchester, many were also hopeful for what the project may do for the town itself.

"I think it's a fabulous opportunity to bring more people to Manchester, this town needs to have more of an artsy element to it," said Franklin. "I think people want to come to towns in Vermont to see art and buy art. For Manchester, I think it will bring a lot more people in."

While the initiative provides exposure for local artists like Friedman and Franklin, frequent visitors and second homeowners are represented in the installations as well.

"We've been visiting Manchester for over thirty years, but my brother recently moved here and had us visit the Southern Vermont Arts Center. We were blown away, it's so beautiful. I decided to become a member, and last summer I had a solo show there which was very successful," said Robert Mielenhausen, an artist based out of Long Island. "The gallery space is beautiful, and it's nice to bring a variety of different artists under one roof. It brings art to the public in a way that exposes them to different ideas and mediums."

Manchester's established art galleries, as well as those in surrounding towns, will not be excluded from the initiative. Many, in fact, have already lent their support. The collaboration between local artists, businesses, and organizations, exemplifies the commitment to reinvigorate downtown Manchester shared by these diverse groups.

"This is something that could make the town look lively, bring new business in, and draw people back to the area so when the opportunity [to be a sponsor] presented itself we thought it made sense," said Cota & Cota president Casey Cota. "We're always willing to do things that will better our community and have a good impact on people. If we're not part of the solution, then we're part of the problem."

"We've always been community minded, and this was a good opportunity to help showcase some artists' work and also fill up some empty storefronts in town and make it look more beautiful," said David Moore, an employee of Cota & Cota. "With all of the people walking around town this is just a great way to build a strong community."

For many organizers, the initiative also reaffirms Manchester's status as an arts destination.

"It gives our artists an opportunity to show their work and be a part of livening up the town and just making an empty building come alive," said Judi Talcott McCormick, President of the Board of Trustees for SVAC. "Art is always a part of the community here, it has been forever, and this just makes it more accessible while making visitors so much more aware of some of the artists in our area."

"We're giving the artists opportunity to have exposure in the downtown," said Lana Hauben of the Manchester Designer Outlets. "It's a pleasure."

For more information, and a full listing of ART Manchester installations, visit www.artmanchestervermont.com.

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.

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