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Farmington plans artwalk on the virtual side after coronavirus shuts down spring event

Farmington Convention & Visitors Bureau seeking participants

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — For the past few weeks, Ingrid Gilbert, the assistant director and online marketing manager for the Farmington Convention & Visitors Bureau, has been watching with a growing sense of frustration as public event after public event in Farmington was canceled because of the COVID-19 shutdown.

But when she saw that the Spring Art Walk scheduled for April 17 in downtown Farmington was nixed, her frustration gave way to an idea.

"I thought, 'There's got to be something, some way we can help,'" she said. "How can we help the artisans?"

Since an actual art walk with visitors strolling from gallery to gallery was out of the question because of social distancing requirements, Gilbert and Tonya Stinson, the bureau's executive director, hatched a plan to try the next best thing — an online version of the event that would feature the work of local artists on the organization's website.

Thus was born the Virtual Spring Art Walk, which will be launched April 17 at farmingtonnm.org/virtual-art-walk. Gilbert issued an email call for artists to submit their work on April 9, and by a day later, she already had received more than 30 inquiries from interested artists and 10 who had made a firm commitment to participate.

Artist Karen Ellsbury displays one of her hand-painted trays that will be featured in the Virtual Spring Art Walk presented by the Farmington Convention & Visitors Bureau beginning April 17.

Gilbert said the event serves two purposes. First, it helps local artists who have no retail outlet through which to sell their work these days with the closure of art galleries. Second, she hopes it attracts web visitors from out-of-town locations who might be inclined to travel to Farmington later after having been exposed to its arts scene on a virtual basis.

Karen Ellsbury and Patrick Hazen, the owners of the Studio 116 Gallery in downtown Farmington, are among the artists who will take part in the virtual art walk. With their gallery shuttered during the shutdown, they welcome the opportunity to try a new outlet for their work.

"Oh, I think it's really wonderful, and all of us, of course, are wondering how to keep our doors open and have opportunities to sell our work," Ellsbury said. "And we think this helps the rest of our community, not just our gallery."

This driftwood and ceramic piece by karen Ellsbury is featured in the Virtual Spring Art Walk being organized by the Farmington Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Gilbert said artists who are interested in taking part can visit the virtual art walk website and click on the "Virtual Spring Art Walk Call for Artists" link. They can then submit images of three to five pieces of their work, list the prices for the work and submit a short biography.

Visitors to the sight will have the opportunity to purchase the work. Artists will need to specify which payment systems they have arranged, such as online platforms or old-fashioned check or cash payments. Shipping arrangements also will need to be worked out.

Gilbert emphasized the bureau is discouraging face-to-face exchanges of artwork and money between artists and buyers, as that defeats the whole idea of conducting a virtual operation.

She acknowledged that many artists have no experience with online sales and don't know how to set up digital payment systems, but she said she is available to help walk them through that process.

Photographer Patrick Hazen displays one of his works that will be featured in the Virtual Spring Art Walk being organized by the Farmington Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"This is something we do for our membership anyway," Gilbert said of helping merchants establish an online presence. "Whether it's social media or building a website, we're always happy to sit down with them and get them started."

She said the virtual art walk will feature works in a variety of media, including photography, paintings, sculpture, bookmarks, comic books and knitting. She is hoping to also have a youth category through which younger artists can gain exposure.

While only a limited number of pieces by each artist will be featured at any one time, Gilbert said the participants will have the option to switch out images over time and feature different work.

This lizard sculpture made from driftwood by Karen Ellsbury will be included in the virtual Spring Art Walk this week.

She said she hopes local artists have been using their downtime in recent weeks to create new work, explaining that art certainly can play a healing role for both its creator and its viewer.

That has been the case for Ellsbury, who has produced a series of new hand-painted trays and lazy susans in recent weeks, as well as three-dimensional, multimedia pieces that feature pieces of driftwood.

Artist Karen Ellsbury displays one of her hand-painted lazy susans that will be included in the Virtual Spring Art Walk opening April 17 through the Farmington Convention & Visitors Bureau.

She believes the idea of the virtual art walk is a good alternative to the restrictions that don't allow artists to display and sell their work in traditional settings.

"The sky's kind of the limit," she said, describing her expectations for how the event will be received.

She believes her fellow artists have nothing to lose by taking part — and they might even be pleasantly surprised by the results.

"Hopefully, artists will see how this will benefit them," Ellsbury said.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com.