Canal Street Art Gallery: Collaboration, Culture & Community

Lisa Eckhardt McNealus, "Unyielding Rhythm," 2014, acrylic on paper, 16” x 16” framed (photograph by Michael Noyes).


by Elayne Clift

When the Canal Street Art Gallery opened its doors last November in Bellows Falls, VT, its inaugural “Group Show” of works by 18 local artists was praised by the town’s residents and by the larger art community of southern Vermont. Their response signaled that the gallery had succeeded in establishing an atmosphere that reflected the founders’ mission: To create a comfortable space for artists’ creativity to be experienced in “a culture that may need a more comfortable relationship with the arts,” as Michael Noyes, one of three gallery founders, put it.

Noyes, the gallery’s director, partnered with Emmett Dunbar, a photographer and former economic developer for Rockingham Township, and Garrison Buxton, a muralist and printmaker. Both Garrison and Noyes had prior gallery experience; Noyes had the technical skills to build a gallery website, and all three founders felt the need to bring art back to the community where Noyes had shown his paintings 10 years earlier in a café space that is now home to the gallery.

The “Group Show” that launched the gallery and runs through March 15 was open to all artists who submitted photographs of their work along with an artist statement. Among the pieces included are Sloane Dawson’s found object assemblages, Lisa Eckhardt McNealus’ geometric abstractions of aerial views and Abaigeal Wright’s Epson ink jet prints. The show was un-themed but purposeful, aiming to to reach out to a community of artists while engaging local residents, many of whom had never been to a gallery.

Noyes credited Robert McBride — founding director of the Rockingham Arts and Museum Project (RAMP) who helped revitalize the community of Bellows Falls by developing an awareness of the arts — with helping to launch the gallery. “The entire business of starting a gallery was a huge risk,” Noyes admitted. Located in the National Historic District of Bellows Falls in what is known as the Mary Exner Block, Canal Street has been coming back to life since it was renovated in 2000, but it continues to reinvent itself. There are currently 10 artists’ living and working spaces in the block-long Exner building along with six retail spaces. It is also home to the RAMP office and exhibition space.

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