WESTFIELD – With more than 325 submissions in the recent Weird Art Show, the online event exceeded the expectations of its organizers – members of ArtWorks of Westfield, Inc.
“After the overwhelming success of the 2020 Westfield Youth Art Show held last December and the continued COVID pandemic restrictions sharply curtailing real world, in person art shows, we thought about the next logical extension of a youth art show – let’s open it up to everyone,” said Bill Westerlind, ArtWorks president. “Shannon Chiba suggested the idea of a weird art show to be as inclusive as possible and the 2021 Weird Art Show was born.”
Chiba shared a similar sentiment.
“The show exceeded our expectations in that we were not prepared for all of the hidden talent in our local community,” she said. “It takes courage and an extroverted personality to place one’s work out in the public. Some folks may not have that level of comfort.”
Chiba added that the show allowed area residents to “put their work out there” and to accept that “maybe the work is not traditional art.”
Both Westerlind and Chiba agreed there is room for all types of art and this show created a venue for that.
“Honestly, we had no specific expectations of the show,” said Westerlind. “However, given the strong community response to the youth art show and the high response rate to individual posts of art work we observed on our Facebook pages, we knew artists and community members would be receptive to the concept. We were astonished by the participation rate – truly remarkable.”
The first, second and third place winners were selected based on the total number of online reactions – “Likes,” “Loves,” “Wows,” etc. to the art work on display in the Weird Art Show gallery, without deference to medium or category of work.
“I think the show worked so well because there were no barriers to entry, anyone and everyone could participate,” said Westerlind, adding, “The most weird and wild pieces were fully accepted and embraced along with traditional pieces of unusual art work and, the community was encouraged to react freely and openly and provide feedback to the artists.”
Both Westerlind and Chiba noted that the diversity of the work and the interactions with gallery visitors was “wonderful.”
“I think the feedback, recognition and open platform to show their work was more important to most of the artists than the prizes,” said Westerlind. “Art work that might not be welcomed at more traditional art shows was fully embraced and encouraged at the Weird Art Show.”
The winners were: first place, Abigail Gawron for “Fantasy Self Portrait”; second place, Ciera Bilodeau for a macramé wall hanging, and third place went to Ward Parker for a fairy tale acrylic painting.
“Having the opportunity to showcase and receive positive feedback has inspired me to create again,” said Gawron. “It’s easy to get lost in the day and get consumed by the 9-5. It’s forced me to take a step back, reassess my priorities and really take a moment to do what’s best for me and what I love.”
Parker echoed that sentiment.
“I love to paint but more importantly, I love sharing the experience with others,” said Parker. “Our website is epicpaintevent.com – Epic stands for Every Person is Creative. All art is good and everyone truly can paint and create art regardless of what they think. Creativity is one of the best things for your mind. In a 100 years from now none of us will be here but your art will last forever.”
The Best in Show winners were selected by the ArtWorks Westfield board members. The winners were Mary Ellen Correia for “Our Lady of Bohemia,” and Joy Marshall for “Self Portrait.”
“We truly agonized over this decision because the work was so compelling,” said Westerlind. “As a matter of fact, the decision was so hard to make that we elected to create a second Best in Show prize and name two winners. Certainly a strange and unusual ending to a Weird Art Show.”
“It’s a weird ending to the show, but the pieces are stunning in their own ways,” said Chiba.
Gawron received $75, donated by an anonymous donor and Bicycle City Artworks – the artistic side of Westfield author and WhipCity Wordsmiths founder Susan Buffum; Bilodeau received $50, donated by ArtWorks of Westfield, and Parker received $25, donated by an anonymous donor.
The initial $100 Best in Show prize was sponsored by Mina’s Wine and Spirits in Westfield.
“Store owners Prob and Mina Reshamwala have been major supporters of the arts in Westfield over the years and we so appreciate their continued support and involvement,” said Westerlind. “The second Best in Show prize was sponsored by ArtWorks of Westfield through generous support of our members and donors.”
Participating artists also share feedback about the show, including author Robert W. Thompson of Westfield.
“I thought it was a terrific show, an opportunity to see the number of talented artists we have in the Pioneer Valley and the genres they work in,” said Thompson. “Their art gave a great representation of Life, and all the power that’s in it.”
Shauna Leva Allen of Westfield, a freelance artist, illustrator, seamstress and costume designer, concurred.
“It was a fun distraction from the winter blues, and evidence that there’s an under-expressed appetite for the arts hiding in this city,” she said. “People are ready to get weird and get creative and that energy is exciting.”
For Westerlind and Chiba, their lasting impressions of the show are many.
“I think the largest take away for me was the diversity and inclusiveness of this show and the community’s openness to share in the artists’ creativity and ingenuity,” said Westerlind. “Artists and gallery visitors alike seemed to relish the opportunity to engage in this digital exploration of the strange, unusual, quirky and unique.”
Chiba added that artists “sometimes hide.”
“Sometimes we do not think our work should be shared, could be shared or we fear comparison to other work,” said Chiba. “This show brought artists out, accepted funky, intricate and different work and celebrated it.”
In the future, ArtWorks members are eager to continue this themed show.
“We expect this will evolve into another annual ArtWorks of Westfield event,” said Westerlind. “We have tinkered with the idea of a real world, in person version of the Weird Art Show once COVID is in the rear view mirror but those discussions are very preliminary.”
Both Westerlind and Chiba agree that artist and community feedback on this show and other ideas are always welcome.
“Another take away for me was my strong sense that arts and cultural experiences are becoming a larger and more important part of life in the great city of Westfield,” said Westerlind. “Although this was a pure online experience and artists from many towns outside of Westfield participated in the show, the event still contributed to the growing realization that Westfield is becoming a happening place for the arts.”