By Lauren LeBel
WESTFIELD — After months of capturing unique photos, ArtWorks Westfield is ready to display the public’s entries and award the winners of the inaugural Downtown Westfield Photo Challenge.
ArtWorks Westfield, a nonprofit, volunteer run organization, started their work in late 2015. Bill Westerlind, founder and president of ArtWorks Westfield Inc., said they began their work in an effort to promote artistic diversity both within and beyond the community. He added that every year since, they have been “growing and striving.”
The idea for the photo challenge stemmed from the collaboration with local and regional professional photographers. Westerlind said the photographers developed this idea to “tap into their industry experience and expertise to ensure the challenge would resonate with the photography community.”
The team of those five photographers included Andrea York Photography, Marc St. Onge, Jessica Beaupre, Bill Curran and Wendy McCann Photography. Westerlind added that these people were “instrumental in sculpting the challenge into the final format.”
To take part in this challenge, in 2019, Artworks Westfield applied for a grant from the Westfield Cultural Council. In return, the Cultural Council rewarded the nonprofit group with a grant of $1,000. Westerlind said this grant funded the prizes to each winner, along with the marketing and publicity of the challenge.
The photo challenge was originally supposed to take place in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic altered those plans. Westerlind said the Cultural Council was gracious to carry the grant over to 2021.
From Aug. 1 through Oct. 30, ArtWorks Westfield called in new, emerging, experienced and professional photographers to capture photos across the city. Westerlind said originally the focus was on Downtown Westfield, but ArtWorks extended the boundaries south, to Amelia Park and north to Bismarck Place.
Westerlind said in total, the contest received 41 entries, depicting a variety of happenings, across different seasons.
Photos were separated into three categories: people, place and thing. For the people category, Elvin Sanchez won with his photo titled “Orbital Ride.” For the place category, Gary Tracy took top honors for “Water Fountain.” The winner in the thing category was Kamila O’Neill with her submission, “Spiritual Sculpture.”
The winners were determined by a panel of six judges, mixed with a cross-section of civic and business leaders in the community. Westerlind said they looked at the images “less from a technical perspective but more of an emotional one.”
During the judging process, Westerlind said, photos were identified by number alone, so judges did not know who the photographer was and could not show bias.
Each winner will receive a $300 gift card for Hunts Photo. According to Westerlind, Hunts Photo in Holyoke is a well-known art brand in the community.
Today, Nov. 27, all entries in the Downtown Westfield Photo Challenge will be on display in a pop-up photo gallery in the main entrance of Bismarck Place, 16 Union Ave., Westfield. Westerlind said he hopes Small Business Saturday will attract a healthy crowd of passers-by to view the display. The showing will begin at 10 a.m. and go until 4 p.m. There is no admission fee and the event is entirely open to the public.
Westerlind said the showing at the Bismarck coincides with ArtWorks Westfield’s mission, “Creating artwork and [sharing it] on a platform for the community to come together and in proximity within our small businesses.”
Many of the photographers who submitted entries for the contest will be present during the showing. Westerlind said people will have the opportunity to speak with the various photographers and ask questions, along with the opportunity for the community to pick a fourth winner. The winner of the People’s Choice Award will receive a $100 gift card to Hunts Photo.
Although this was the first year of the photo challenge, Westerlind said him and his team at ArtWorks Westfield have already been thinking about doing this again.
“We have talked about it and learned a lot of good things,” he added. “We’re definitely considering it.”
On Tuesday, Nov. 30, ArtWorks Westfield will be hosting “Giving Tuesday.” As ArtWorks Westfield is a nonprofit organization, Westerlind said much of the support for its programs come from donations and membership fees. ArtWorks programs include ArtWalks, photography shows, literary readings, the Downtown Live Concert Series and the ArtiCulture event.
After the shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday provides people with a way to give back to the community, said Westerlind. Donations can be made on ArtWorks Westfield Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ArtWorksWestfield/.
At press time, $375 has been raised. Their current goal is $500, but Westerlind said depending on the support, the goal may be adjusted.
“2022 looks great for us, and any donation of any size would be helpful,” he said.
Westerlind said 100 percent of all donations go to ArtWorks Westfield, and donations are tax-deductible.
For additional information on ArtWorks Westfield, visit their official Facebook page.