Last Sunday, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute held its last Free First Sunday event of the museum’s off-season. This Sunday coincided with traditional spring holiday May Day, and the event was themed accordingly, featuring spring-y programming throughout the day, the first event in what may become an annual tradition.
Despite drizzly weather, the Clark sweetly celebrated May 1 with a range of artful activities held on site, all available with museum access made completely free to the public.
The programming began at 10 a.m. with a performance by the Williams College Percussion Ensemble. At 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., the Clark hosted gallery talks, entitled “Flowers, Fresh Starts, and Frivolity.” From 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., Irish folk band Dublin Porter played downstairs, and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. professional florists from Mount Williams Greenhouse put together floral arrangements for purchase, while in the same large room, museum-goers could create their own floral arrangements of sorts: flower crowns, bouquets or May Carts.
In spite of, or perhaps because of, the light rain outside, the event still felt as lighthearted and lovely as intended. Museum-goers huddled indoors while enjoying the variety of music, pulling off raincoats and participating happily in the planned activities.
In the arts room, I was surprised to find attendants of all ages working on various projects. Children between the ages of about six to 12 worked on giant paper roses with wire and crepe paper next to elderly couples, creating their own May baskets with paper and ribbons.
According to Chelsea Neveu, education coordinator at the Clark, this reflects that despite some “some family-oriented parts to the day,” Free First Sunday programming is always intended for all community members.
Between November and May, the Clark offers free admission to to the public on the first Sundays of each month, outside of the peak summer season.
Hannah Leatherman, coordinator of family and community events at the Clark, explained that the May Day celebration is part of a larger attempt to enliven the Free First Sunday program. “It’s great, because we get to bring in a lot of people in the community with the free admission and then we have something special for them once they get here,” Leatherman said. “We’re expanding more from our usual family day programming, which happens only a couple of times a year, to do more for more people in our community.”
“The Clark has had a really great history of doing a lot of family programming,” Leatherman continued. “But, providing things that are of interest to people of all ages is something that we’re trying to do more of.”
To me, the May Day Celebration seemed to be part of a larger pattern of more Clark outreach to community members, including the College community and a larger connection between the Clark and the College.
In recent months, the Clark have reached out via Facebook to students with invitations to events like “The Clark Gala,” “The Clark After Hours” and the “May Day Celebration at The Clark.” To this list, Leatherman added upcoming “Cultured Cow” talk “Teardrops on my Renoir” on May 13 – part of a series of gallery talks that began this year – that will be exclusively Taylor Swift themed.
The gallery talks at the May Day Celebration, while differently themed, all discussed spring time – mostly Impressionist works – and were similarly playful. “We’re looking at themes like rebirth, more flirty and frivolous items,” Leatherman said.
Overall, the May Day Celebration did feel like a playful exploration and celebration of the Clark’s art collection as well as the Clark’s role in the Williamstown community as late spring hits the idyllic Purple Valley.
While the rain poured outside, Williamstown residents of all ages were insulated in the Clark’s thick glass walls, admiring the world that surrounds us while finding new worlds in the beautiful artwork housed within the museum, the art that our community bands and residents can make all on their own.