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Glimpses of Ithaca’s Art Community During Gallery Night

Downtown Ithaca was lively on Friday night with ice sculptures, ice fixtures, and live music to kick off their annual Winter Lights Festival, but others were there to celebrate the local visual arts scene during First Friday Gallery Night.

Gallery Night poster outside of the Community School of Music and Arts in Downtown Ithaca. Source: Erin Terada

First Friday Gallery Night

The monthly First Friday Gallery Night took place on Dec. 3, with different galleries and art showcases throughout The Commons and Downtown Ithaca. The event started in 1999 with the purpose of increasing public awareness and involvement with different local art movements in Ithaca. Downtown Ithaca Alliance (DIA) took over the event in 2008, and Gallery Night has been a monthly event since 2009.

“These events are opportunities for locals and visitors alike to see the work of local, regional, national, and international artists at upwards of 20-25 different venues, which are mapped out on printed guides,” said Olivia Pastella, operations director of DIA.

Gallery Night came to an abrupt halt back in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Determined to continue virtually, the DIA team created virtual galleries for Gallery Night patrons to enjoy community art from the comfort and safety of their homes. Since June 2021, Gallery Night has returned to being in-person in Downtown Ithaca, with some changes made to keep participants safe.

“It was challenging to create a cohesive program with the many different feelings around galleries being open to the public, but also for interested artists as there were many different comfort levels on sharing intimate space indoors,” said Pastella.

The Pandemic Hobby that turned into Art

Upcycled Lamps by Jon Jensen showcased in a gallery for First Friday Gallery Night. Source: Erin Terada

Jon Jensen specializes in the art of creating lamps out of recycled materials, antique pieces, and essentially anything that he sees feasible to work with. As a retiree, he started making his lamps only a year ago in 2020, when he found his father-in-law’s prosthetic leg in storage. Since then, Jensen has grown his lamp collection rapidly, showcasing 65 lamps at his first gallery show during First Friday Gallery Night. He is now the founder of Upcycled Lamps by Jon Jensen.

Jensen said that working on Upcycled Lamps didn’t have any challenges related to the pandemic, but he was fortunate to have started his business during this time. He currently uses Facebook to post photos of his pieces. Although he just recently joined the art scene in Ithaca, Jensen said that it has been a welcoming experience with great responses from the community.

Community School of Music and Arts Returns: Pandemic Edition

Robin Tropper-Herbel is the Executive Director of the Community School of Music and Arts (CSMA). CSMA is a nonprofit organization that offers a wide range of art and music classes to both youth and adults in Ithaca, and hosts different performances and events. CSMA holds an annual exhibition, but was forced to go on hiatus back in 2020. Its annual exhibition returned on Gallery Night, specifically featuring art that was created throughout the pandemic.

“As you probably know, the arts were hit especially hard because we were one of the first ones to have to close…and the last to be able to open,” said Tropper-Herbel.

Tropper-Herbel spoke of the different challenges CSMA faced to accommodate students virtually for instruction and event planning. As CSMA ‘s facility reopened back in July, she said she is very grateful to the arts community for being receptive to wearing masks and keeping others safe, all to “keep the arts happening.”

“We’re still learning. We’re trying to reconnect people here in this building. To come back out from isolation, back from studios, come out and at least connect for five minutes. We love the artists and looking at their work.”

Zoom Class, 2021 by Deborah Bilinski, showcased at the Pandemic Edition of CSMA’s annual exhibition. Source: Erin Terada

The Rest Gallery

Outside The Rest Gallery, as live music plays. Source: Erin Terada

Ben Bookout, a Colorado native, moved to Ithaca and opened The Rest Gallery in downtown, showcasing his own work and featuring art from various other artists each month. Bookout specializes in visual photography and photo-based sculpture, taking nighttime scenic photos of waterfalls and event photography. The Rest gallery has been part of First Friday Gallery Night since June 2021.

“Every time I meet an artist, I ask them if they’d want to show their work at this space,” said Bookout. “It’s been a great way to interface with the art community and a really great way to interface with the public as well.”

Though many artists were hit hard by the pandemic, Bookout found a way to motivate himself to work even harder as an artist just starting out his career. Despite the challenges that were brought upon everyone, Bookout credits the pandemic for giving him the opportunity to open The Rest Gallery, due to the vacant commercial spaces throughout downtown.

“For me, art is an experience, it’s a journey. If people get to see it, great, if they don’t, that’s okay. It’s really about how you get there and what you learn along the way.”

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