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Beauty Beyond Borders Art Olympics. Courtesy photo.




Creative recap
Highlights from this year’s local art scene

12/28/17
By Angie Sykeny asykeny@hippopress.com



 From special exhibits and new galleries to theater with modern messages, 2017 was a year of growth for the local arts community. 

“We have seen an exciting expansion of opportunities for people to experience the arts in New Hampshire,” said Jeffrey Rose, commissioner of the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, which includes the State Council on the Arts, “from international exhibits like Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters and drawings at the Currier in Manchester, to the growth of artists’ presence at farmers markets across the state, to the appreciation of how the arts have positive impacts on those struggling with health issues, including addiction.” 
Here’s a look back at some of the highlights from the New Hampshire art scene in 2017, plus a peek at what’s in store for next year. 
 
What’s new in art 
Two new art galleries focused on contemporary art opened this year: Granite Town Gallery, located in the space above Union Coffee Co. in Milford, and Kelley Stelling Contemporary on Hanover Street in Manchester. Granite Town Gallery has featured mostly abstract art as well as a LomoWall Project exhibition, which was one of hundreds of exhibitions worldwide commissioned by the Lomographic Society International to celebrate the 25th anniversary of lomography, an analog camera art movement that focuses on spontaneity and uninhibited creativity rather than photographic aesthetics. Kelley Stelling Contemporary features thought-provoking pieces by emerging 2-D and 3-D artists that pushes the boundaries and redefines the way people think about art.  
“A lot of galleries in this area cater to more traditional tastes, with landscape paintings and that kind of thing, but we’re showing art that’s a little edgier,” gallery co-founder Karina Kelley said in October. “Some of it might make people a little uncomfortable and make them wonder what the artist is trying to express.” 
Another Hanover Street addition is Jupiter Hall, a 1,900-square-foot multipurpose arts venue that features visual art exhibitions by local artists; hosts community events including film screenings, live music, spoken word and other performances; and provides resources and space for creating films, podcasts, digital art and other digital media.  
“We found that, in New Hampshire, there was a lack of a dedicated venue for people to experience arts and culture and innovation,” founder Daniel Berube said in November. “Jupiter Hall is the answer to that problem.” 
After McGowan Fine Art announced in late April that it would permanently close its doors after 37 years in July, the gallery found an alternative: it moved to a new, smaller space located at 2 Phenix Ave., just off North Main Street in Concord. 
This year also saw some new arts festivals. The inaugural Art Jam Bridge Fest took place on Bridge Street in Manchester in September and highlighted out-of-the-box art with a community graffiti art mural, sidewalk chalk art and a Guinness World Record attempt to create the largest number of paper-crafted butterflies. 
Also in September in downtown Nashua, Beauty Beyond Borders hosted its first-ever Art Olympics, an obstacle course-style race that invited participants to create and perform their way through a series of art challenges.
“The arts community in Nashua is growing so much right now,” Beauty Beyond Borders founder and president Alicia Chouinard said in September. “So we thought [Art Olympics] would be the perfect way for people to come see what the arts community is all about.” 
 
What’s new in theater 
New Hampshire theater continued to push the boundaries this year with things like the Nashua Actorsingers’ teen production of Jesus Christ Superstar, the Palace Theatre’s steampunk twist on Oliver and Andy’s Summer Playhouse’s “Adversity” mainstage series, which included original plays dealing with autism, bullying and transgender issues. 
A new theater company called One Light Theatre launched in Tilton in June with the mission of bringing new, cutting-edge and thought-provoking productions to the New Hampshire stage. So far, it has produced shows like Big Fish the Musical,  Moon Over Buffalo and Heathers the Musical
Theatre KAPOW opened its 10th anniversary season, themed “Faith and Story,” with the New Hampshire premier of the four-person play Living in Exile, a contemporary retelling of Homer’s Iliad. 
A New Hampshire playwright, William Ivers of Hooksett, won the Nor’eastern Play Writing Competition for his play An Unexamined Life, a dark comedy that follows a retiring philosophy professor faced with his own existential crisis. 
The theater scene also says goodbye to the Leddy Center in Epping, which, after 43 years of producing community theater shows, held its 150th and final mainstage production, A Christmas Carol, earlier this month. 
“We’ve been so blessed to be so successful and have such great people on stage and great audiences year after year for half a century,” founder Elaine Gatchell said. “Even though we’re sad, it’s bittersweet, because we hope someone else will start their own journey there [at the theater]. It’s time for someone else to start a new legacy.” 
A new theater may be on the way in Nashua; in November, Nashua residents voted in a non-binding referendum for the city to move forward with a proposal to install a performing arts center in the space formerly occupied by Alec’s Shoes on Main Street. 
 
Looking ahead 
One of the things to look forward to in 2018 is a growing arts community in Nashua. At the 2017 Governor’s Arts Awards, the city of Nashua received the Creative Communities award for its demonstrated advancements of the arts, including a new arts and culture city plan and the formation of a Nashua Arts Commission to oversee it. 
“The city has really made it a strong priority to consider art in its planning and development and to continue to enhance its legacy and reputation with the arts,” Lisa Bissonnette, City Arts Nashua chair, said. 
A trend to watch for in the coming year is the convergence of art and science and greater integration of the ‘A’ in STEAM (the education acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math). 
“We’ve been seeing a lot of projects proposed in response to the idea that science, technology and engineering are art forms and that art has a place in those fields,” Bissonnette said. “There’s a stronger relationship between them than most people think.” 
Rose said people will continue to see the arts community play a more important role not just for artists and arts organizations, but also for New Hampshire’s economy. 
“There are wider impacts as well, including how the arts are catalysts for vibrant downtowns, bringing benefits to restaurants, lodging establishments and shops,” he said. “In the coming year, we are eager to see new ways the arts will engage our visitors and our residents.”





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