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Walk-By Galleries lets artists share some colour during gloomy days

Guelph's artists are being encouraged to display their art in their windows to share with the community

The spring season often brings a refreshing wave of new art exhibitions, shows and events in Guelph galleries and beyond.

But with the strict closure of all non-essential businesses, the streets are virtually empty and void of much activity. Local artists, like many other people, are forced to adapt to this temporary new normal. 

“There are no (gallery) openings, no artist talks ... The shows are up but people can't get in to see them,” said Sharyn Seibert, a visual artist and painter based in downtown Guelph.

Inspired by posts she’d seen on social media for a #WindowGallery, Seibert decided to take the lead on a similar local initiative and encourage informal window exhibitions for passers-by to enjoy. The idea has already taken off on Twitter and Instagram, with galleries and individuals dressing up their windows in places across Canada and around the world. 

“With all the work that I have at home, I decided to put it in my windows,” she said. “I thought how nice it would be if other people could do the same.”

She’s calling it the Walk-by Galleries and is encouraging other art-makers and appreciators to showcase their work from the confines of their own homes. Seibert has two studios: one in downtown Guelph and one inside her home in the Ward, which she describes as “a real hub of artistic activity” in the city.

She has noticed the trend in her neighbourhood as well as other downtown communities, particularly around Alice Street and St. Arnaud Street.

Painter Paul McCarthy was a regular attendee at local drawing classes and paint nights, which have all been cancelled for the time being. Now he has set up three paintings inside his front window at his house in the Ward.

“The lockdown has primarily impacted my ability to socialize with fellow artists in person,” he said. “I decided to participate as a way to keep up social ties, express and introduce myself as well as inspire others, such as the children and young artists in the neighbourhood.” 

McCarthy and Seibert acknowledge that although the current situation is an adjustment on many fronts, a life of solidarity is normal for many visual artists. They say it can inspire creativity.

“We have been in this situation because most of us are working by ourselves. I was a textile artist so now I’m making surgical masks and gowns,” said Seibert. 

McCarthy adds that the extra time at home has been meaningful.

“I have enjoyed working on a collaborative piece of visual art with my family, whom I am spending a lot of time with these days.”

Seibert says the Walk-By-Gallery initiative offers some much-needed visual stimulus to those who are able to venture outside of their homes for fresh air and a ‘social distance’ walk around the neighbourhood. 

“Posting online doesn't give you the idea of the picture, the vibrant colour and the size of the piece,” she said. “This way people can walk by and, depending how close they are, see the actual texture in those paintings.”

She also sees it as a community-builder that celebrates the arts, promotes neighbourly spirit and encourages all skill-levels, including children, to take part.

“We have to have some joy, something that is uplifting, something that is transcending … And in these trying times, I think art is so important.”