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A Giant Multi-Venue Museum: Art Night in Schenectady

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Art Night in Schenectady: A Review

art night schenectadyAllow me to attest to the fact that, not long ago, you could not have paid me to walk down State Street in Schenectady after dark. It’s not a pretty fact, and not one often used to begin an article which will, hopefully, influence others to, among other things, walk down State Street after dark. This fact, though, is part of Schenectady’s past, and the recent resurgence both aesthetically and culturally in this section of the city has placed its dubious history firmly in the past. One of the events Schenectady puts on to convince us of its new identity as a cultural hub is Art Night in Schenectady, a gathering of downtown businesses seeking to increase awareness of the arts in a part of the city which was once known for it, and, with the success of Art Night as well as the architectural and economic rebuilding of downtown, has become known for the arts again. On the third Friday of every month, downtown Schenectady becomes, for a night, a giant multi-venue museum, free to the public and utterly enjoyable.

This year marks the fourth running of Art Night, and thus far its biggest running to date. Including the venues which hosted “After Nine” events, the total number of venues exceeded 40. Twenty-five of those venues were open at least from 5pm-9pm and held work from both local and national artists. Most of my time was spent at the various venues held at the Proctor’s Theater Arcade, where art seemed to pour from every open door. It became so difficult to tear myself away from one installation that, frankly, the scale of the event became rather daunting. This does not mean scale is something which can or should be fixed, for it means that people from all over Schenectady, those who made the trip out or were just walking home and happened to notice it, could see a little something. Once at Proctor’s, though, I knew I was not making it to upper Union Street to see an installation I had planned on seeing. I consider myself no art connoisseur, but I do know it cannot be truly appreciated with a passing glance, and so I stayed, and I am glad I did.

The one gallery in which I spent most of my time was the Fennimore Gallery. This gallery showcased work by Nip Rogers as part of an installation entitled “Social Face Working.” What Rogers did was to take the social media aspect of Facebook and turn it into social media. He showed portraits of 40 artists he met on Facebook and invited them to showcase their work at Fennimore Gallery with him. It was truly a transcendent experience, with the idea of social media becoming something along the lines of using media (visual art) as a means and excuse for being social. The work was amazing, with such a variety of style and content that I felt, by the time I left, I had seen a fair representation of contemporary art.

From there, I took a stroll down Jay Street. This has become one of my favorite stretches of town, and while most people will say the most remarkable Schenectady revival has been the Proctor’s stretch of State Street, I say Jay Street is at least equally remarkable. To put it into context, as a teenager, I delivered pizzas for a Schenectadian pizzeria. We would not deliver to Jay Street after dark. Now it is a charming, buzzing part of the city which is often overlooked by those not familiar. I cannot review any one Jay Street establishment here, though, because I hardly stopped in any. I had been sucked into the whole atmosphere of Art Night in Schenectady. People smiled. They were genuinely interested in something–art–which required thought and reflection and I simply strolled (also not a word which could have been used in the Schenectady of five or so years ago). The deep, hearty tobacco smell of Orion’s Boutique. The delicate, fresh aroma wafting from Chez Daisie Creperie. All variety of live music could be heard melted together throughout downtown, an anthem harkening back to Schenectady’s heyday, when Proctor’s Theater was the premier venue for Vaudeville and one of the first places nationally to feature a “talkie.”

Art Night in Schenectady used to be seen as the little brother to Saratoga’s First Night or Albany’s Larkfest, and maybe it still is, but it is safe to say the event is now an essential asset to its community, enlightening and entertaining its citizens with a charm the city is working doggedly to reclaim.

–Matthew Holden is an Assistant Editor for The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our new City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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