By Susan Dunne
Two years ago, the creative-placemaking project called My Windham had its inaugural event. Work by more than a dozen artists was installed outdoors and inside shops on Willimantic’s Main Street for five weeks in the spring. The second bi-annual event, renamed The Windham Project, will take place from April 15 to May 25 with a new focus: Nobody will have to go inside any shops to enjoy art.
“We surveyed our visitors and they liked it best when it’s all outdoors,” said Eastern Connecticut State University art Professor Gail Gelburd, organizer of the project. “It’ll all be outdoors or in storefront windows. It’ll be open all the time, 24-7.” The project — funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the town, the university and private donations —also has burst out of the borders of the state.
“We want to promote Windham all over as a place for art,” said Gelburd. So this year, along with 18 artists (or art-making teams) from Connecticut, there are two participants from New Jersey and one from Albany, N.Y.
And possibly one from India. Majunaath Naik’s work “Heart in a Jar” was juried into the exhibit, to be shown in the window of Jamaican Me Crazy restaurant. Naik planned to attend the opening reception, but he was denied a visa to travel to the United States from his home in Goa, India. His artwork may make it here in time, but there’s a chance it won’t.
Gelburd learned another thing from the first event: When everyone is inside at a reception, no one is outside looking at art. This year’s opening reception on April 20 is a “walking, progressive” event. Visitors can get a map, stroll the mile from Town Hall to Jillson Square, see the artwork, watch performance artists and get free snacks at Main Street businesses.
Melica Bloom of Willimantic — who helped create many of the murals in this mural-obsessed town — will create a new mural. Kenneth Saintonge of Windham will install a video “portal” from Willimantic to Denton, Texas, where he goes to school. People who stand in front of the portal can see the main drag in Denton, and people in Denton can see them.
Carolyn Naegeli Slead of Coventry will repurpose waste plastic into an artwork at the Hooker Hotel, which coincidentally is owned by Willimantic Waste. Tatiana Sougakova of New Jersey will repurpose old CDs to create “jewelry” for the trees to wear. ECSU’s Visual Arts Club will repurpose used shoes to create a found-object sculpture that comments on the wealth gap. It will be placed across the street from the homeless shelter. Anyone who needs a pair of shoes can grab a pair from the installation and keep it.
Other artists who will participate, working in projection, kinetic, sound, performance, murals and sculptures, include John Byrne of Hamden, Karen Davis of Vernon, Lauren Duke of Windham, ECSU professor Belinda Gabryl, Robert Greene of Ledyard, Sean Langlais of Norwich, sisters Amelia and Gretta Ingraham of Coventry, Steven Kroeger of Albany, N.Y.; Mark McKee of Ledyard, Jerry Montoya of Meriden, Chris Plaisted of Milford, Afarin Rahmanifar of Manchester, Rosary Solimanto of New Jersey, Jim Turner of Windham and Brennan Yau of Willington. The jurors were Migdalia Salas, Emily Handlin and Gelburd, who also will show her art.
THE WINDHAM PROJECT will take place along Main Street in Willimantic from the Windham Town Hall to Jillson Square, from April 15 to May 25. The opening reception is April 20 from 5 to 8 p.m. windhamproject.org.
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