Poetry, author talk, science experiments top Athenaeum offerings

WESTFIELD-Each month, staff members at the Westfield Athenaeum host programs that are educational and challenging for all ages.

“One of the things we thought about as we planned out programs is the situation that families are facing this spring,” said Guy McLain, the Athenaeum’s new executive director. “We know that many people are still concerned about getting out and doing things as we have in the past.”

McLain said this month’s programming and special events will be fun and enriching for the entire family.

“We hope that programs provide activities that the whole family can do together, something that might be educational and entertaining and also provide a family bonding experience,” he said.

Becky Blackburn, public services librarian, noted that April is designated National Poetry Month and the Athenaeum staffers are celebrating with several programs.

“Starting April 6 on the Athenaeum’s lawn we will have a display of last year’s poetry contest winners,” said Blackburn, adding that a poetry contest for all ages is also underway with a deadline of April 30 for submissions.

Blackburn noted there are two categories for the poetry contest – adults 18 and older – and youth in grades K-12.

“All entries submitted must meet contest guidelines,” said Blackburn, adding, “Poems that do not meet guidelines will not be accepted.”

Complete details for the poetry contest can be found at

“A Poetry Celebration will be held in May, date and venue to be determined,” said Blackburn, adding, “All entrants will be invited when this is decided.”

Also in conjunction with Poetry Month, Blackburn said the first Puppet Poetry video was released April 1 on the Athenaeum’s Facebook page.

“Think ‘Masked Singer’ with poetry,” said Blackburn.

McLain will also conduct a virtual Author Talk on April 15 from 7-8 p.m., discussing his new novel, “Drawing Without an Eraser.”

“Since one of the themes in the novel is the difficulties and the hardships of becoming an artist, and the especially difficult plight of women trying to establish a career in a male dominated art world, I will spend some time talking about the nature of the art business in America today,” said McLain.

Guy McLain, executive director of the Westfield Athenaeum, will discuss his new novel during a virtual author talk this month. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

McLain added he will touch upon training for artists in the United States, and the fact that it’s “very difficult” for aspiring artists to receive the necessary education and exposure to art if you live in certain areas of the country.

“I will discuss perceptions about art among the general public and how those perceptions can often make the course of the artist even more difficult,” he said, adding that as part of the background for the story, he will talk about the art gallery scene as it currently operates in art centers like New York.

“If you are an American artist, but don’t live within an easy commute of the international galleries – all located in the Chelsea section of New York City – you will have a much harder time becoming known in the art world,” said McLain.

McLain noted we live in a time where just a few dozen high profile commercial art galleries dominate the international art market.

“So if you aren’t connected to a small group of gallery owners, art museum curators, and art critics, all living in just a few art centers around the world, your chances of receiving recognition are very slim,” he said. “Often women, especially women with children, find it very difficult to relocate to one of these art centers.”

As part of the hour talk, McLain will also discuss the novel more in-depth, as well as plot elements and why he chose to place the novel in a certain time and place.

“Since certain elements of the story are not directly related to art, I want to talk about some of the secondary themes,” he said. “For instance, one of the themes addresses the difficulty women with active careers have in managing family life.”

McLain said he hopes the novel inspires readers to think about the situation that women face in making life choices that often cause tensions with husbands and children.

“Hopefully, readers will find aspects of the story that are relevant to their own experience even if they aren’t interested in art,” he said.

Area residents who wish to participate in the discussion can sign up through the Athenaeum’s event calendar at

Also this month, a unique program for families centers on science experiments.

“The Take-Home Science: Chemistry event is made possible through generous funding from the Westfield Cultural Council and the Massachusetts Cultural Council,” said Blackburn.

The take-home kit includes seven experiments with follow along videos from SEED, Inc., noted Blackburn.

“SEED is a regional nonprofit organization run by Ph.D. scientists with a passion for empowering teachers with the confidence to instill a love of science in their students,” said Blackburn.

“You receive all of the materials you need to perform your experiments,” she said, adding that the kits – one per family – are appropriate for students in grades 3-5.

“Younger children can do the experiments with parental help,” said Blackburn. “The kit makes a perfect family activity for spring vacation.”

For parents wishing to reserve a kit, call (413) 568-7833 for more details.

Rounding out the month are programs including a teen craft on April 20 for grades 5-12, a teen paint afternoon on April 21 from 2-3 p.m., All Ages BINGO on April 21 from 6:30-7:30 p.m., and a Trivia Thursdays: Dinos Galore! session on April 22 from 6:30-7:30 p.m. For more information and to register for any of the programs, call the Athenaeum during business hours.

Blackburn said that ongoing programs include librarians discussing book and life-related topics on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. on Facebook Live. The topic with librarians on April 6 is “How Far Have You Traveled by Reading?” and on April 20, the topic is “What Makes a Good Book Adaptation?”

“You can either join live and be part of the discussion or watch the episode later on our Facebook page,” said Blackburn. 

Blackburn said a bonus Thursday Trivia event on April 29 at 6:30 p.m. centers on television.

“Hopefully, you won’t feel like staring into the camera ‘too’ much during this event,” she said, adding, “Come ready to show off your knowledge of all things Dunder Mifflin and Pawnee.”

The trivia event takes place over Zoom and uses Kahoot.

“You will need an extra internet connected device,” said Blackburn, noting a smartphone, tablet or laptop is necessary. “You can also split the screen of a computer to play.”

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