Photo: Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media
NORWALK — COVID-19 led to the postponement or cancellation of many popular events such as Norwalk’s annual St. Patrick’s Day pParade, its Memorial Day celebrations and the Fourth of July fireworks.
The SoNo Arts Festival came close to meeting this same fate. But thanks to a little collaboration between the festival organizers and property owners on Washington Street, the Norwalk tradition is happening this year, but in a new way.
The SoNo Arts Festival is being held this year in seven unoccupied store fronts on Washington Street where artists will display and sell their goods, gallery-style. The festival kicked off on Thursday and will continue through this weekend and next. The hours are from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and Fridays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.
Over 50 artists will be featured in gallery spaces at 68, 132 A+C, 136, 119, 123, 127, and 135 Washington St. Visitors can enjoy the works of David E. Gordon of Gordon Fine Arts, photographic and mixed media artist Nancy C Woodward, glass blower Jason Curtis, mixed media artist Tracy Hambley, jewelry designer/maker Lydia Tucci, multimedia artist Mari Gyorgyey, Mixed Media Collage Artist Matt Gabel Art, and more. There’s also live music performances provided in partnership with Factory Underground Studios
Director of the SoNo Arts Festival Sue Brown Gordon said the vibe of the festival this year is more akin to visiting an art gallery given the new format.
“Each (space) is full of beautiful, original fine art and craft,” said Brown Gordon. “Some of the artists that’d normally be set up outside during the traditional art festival are set up with booths and displays but inside, so we still have the same flavor of the show. It’s really beautiful at night with people dining and strolling. There’s a great ambiance. It’s really casual and comfortable. I don’t think anyone needs to feel afraid to come and take a peek.”
Brown Gordon said in order to hold the festival in its traditional outdoors format and adhere to COVID-19 formats, the event would have had to be gated to avoid exceeding gathering limits, something she wanted to avoid.
Brown Gordon was then connected with AGW Partners who acquired a good chunk of the real estate on Washington Street in December. Adam Greenbaum, co-founder of AGW Partners, said when the group purchased the portfolio, they met with their new tenants, many of whom praised the SoNo Arts Festival for the business it brought it and requested more events like it.
Then COVID-19 hit, diminishing a lot of plans AGW had. Then AGW’s marketing arm connected them with the festival organizers and the plan to loan out seven vacant spaces on Washington was born.
“For us, the arts festival is amazing,” Greenbaum said. “We’ve been basically doing our best during COVID of finding ways to add to that feeling of community building and add a more dynamic energy to the area and street. One of the things that makes our investment very unique is our success is largely correlated with the success of small business owners who are our tenants. We’re going to have a higher density of foot traffic. That’s going to translate to more economic activity central to our business plan. It’s finding ways to bring more interest.”
Brown Gordon said each gallery space has a hand sanitizer station and occupancy limits so people can observe safely. Participants will also wear masks.
Only a few days into this year’s festival and Brown Gordon said they are already considering doing a holiday arts event next month and continuing adding an indoor gallery component into the festival next year.
“We’ve had a very favorable reaction already,” she said. “We think the potential to keep this going thorough holiday months will be very probable. We’ll just keep refreshing with new ideas and keep stimulating people visually while keeping the art world alive. The best part of this event is it’s supporting artists who are really underrepresented. If the public is starving for art, come out.”