Hundreds flock to Essex Art Center re-opening and block party

·4 min read

Aug. 22—LAWRENCE — Hundreds of adults and children flocked to Island Street on Saturday to celebrate the grand re-opening of the Essex Art Center.

They came to see about 200 pieces of art from 100 area artists that were on display inside the center — with prices ranging from $10 to $12,500.

An outdoor block party featured live performances, art demonstrations and craft activities for children. It was also an opportunity to chat with some of the local start-up businesses that were looking to connect with the community.

"It's all about community," said Monica Manoski, the center's new executive director. "Lawrence and the people who live and work here have an inspiring, collaborative spirit. As the community's art center, we want to make sure we're welcoming everyone who lives and works here, that we're engaging them with our programming, and adding value to their lives and their neighborhood."

Four months in the planning, the event brought together nonprofits, small businesses and volunteers, all of whom wanted to be part of celebrating and promoting the arts and business community in Lawrence.

Several start-up businesses that were looking for exposure set up booths, including Queen Delights, a home-based business that produces caramel dipped and decorated apples and chocolate dipped and decorated strawberries.

"We sell online but we deliver within 10 miles of Lawrence," said co-owner Will Ventura. "We found a location in Methuen and hope to open between December and January."

Jennifer Paz, co-owner of Timeless Juices and Smoothies, was promoting all-natural juices that come in six flavors.

"We started making juices at home and now we're looking to expand," she said.

The nonprofit Essex Art Center hosted booths too, including one that gave children an opportunity to decorate a coaster, bookmark or ornament at no cost.

The sidewalk that runs along Island Street between Union Street and the small bridge connecting Island and Canal streets drew the attention of many visitors.

Students at Lawrence High School recently created a mural that tells the story of a bee that lives in a world without inspiration when its life changes after attending art school and it learns about drawing, painting, and music. The story unfolds in images over the long stretch of sidewalk.

The center had been hosting art classes throughout the pandemic, but Saturday was the first time it opened to the public since the start of the pandemic.

Classes offered include painting, collage, drawing, fiber art, digital art, clay and art history.

"This is the first time in over a year that we've had art on our walls," Manoski said.

The event not only brought exposure to the art center and its various art classes, but also raised money so it can offer Lawrence children art classes at a 75% discount.

Most of the participating artists agreed to either share the revenue from the sale of their art 50/50 with the center. In some cases artists were even more generous and donated anywhere from 75% to 100% of their sales to the center, Manoski said.

"We never want financial reasons to be a barrier to someone experiencing the benefit of the arts," she said.

The interior walls of the art center were covered in art created by amateur and professional artists, including Marla McLeod, whose three panel image of a woman of color bore the highest price at the event, $12,500.

Jeanne Zilliox of North Andover brought her children, Samuel, 11, Luke, 12, and Clara, 8.

"My kids were psyched about the free ice cream," she said in reference to the Gilbert's Ice Cream truck. "I'm thinking about signing Clara up for a class as she's the one who is most interested in painting."

Anny Candelario Escobar and her husband Edwin Escobar — both of whom teach at Phillips Academy in Andover — brought their children Andretti, 12, who had taken a digital animation class at the center prior to the pandemic, and Xavi, 10, who had attended a ceramics class.

"I love the fact this event is bilingual, that it has a community feel and that it's a very festive environment," Candelario Escobar said.

To further celebrate Essex Art Center's work and highlight Lawrence's creative community, Creative Collective and MassDevelopment TDI hosted Imagina Arte, a collaborative after-party and pop-up art gallery held in a former bank on Essex Street.

The after-party was the third installment in the Imagina Essex series. Throughout the series, the creative workforce and local entrepreneurs displayed immersive exhibitions intended to inspire both residents and property owners of the possibilities that lie within vacant spaces in Lawrence's budding downtown.

After the conclusion of Imagina Arte, there is one event left in the Imagina Essex series: Creative Collective and its local leadership team will be pulling out all the stops to see to it that the final event continues to be reflective of the city of Lawrence's greatest asset — its community.

Reporter Jill Harmacinski contributed to this story

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