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DOWNTOWN NASHUA IS about to become an open-air art gallery for the warm weather months. That’s the vision of City Arts Nashua and its many partners who’ve collaborated for the past year on COVID-19 survival strategies for the business and arts community.

In a sure sign of spring, outdoor dining is returning to the downtown with the installation this week of jersey barriers designed to broaden the area for dining beyond the sidewalks and into the street.

The resulting narrowing of Main Street is a bit of a hassle for traffic and downtown residents, but with few exceptions last summer’s experiment necessitated by COVID restrictions was well-received and worth repeating.

Lisa Bissonnette of City Arts Nashua.

BISSONNETTE

One significant difference this year: The concrete barriers will be painted in an artistic graffiti style by many of the same people responsible for the incredible murals that grace so many Gate City buildings.

The splash of color up and down Main Street and several side streets will combine with art exhibits, the annual sculpture symposium and the ever-present murals to make Nashua a destination for any fan of the visual arts.

The 8th Annual Meri Goyette Arts Awards Luncheon, dedicated to one of the city’s foremost patrons of the arts and co-founder of the Nashua International Sculpture Symposium, will take place virtually in April this year as it did in 2020, but with an added twist.

“Meri turned 95 on Sunday (March 28), so to honor her wishes and celebrate her work, we are putting on a show of her artwork in late April in the windows of the Telegraph offices on Main Street,” says City Arts Board President Lisa Bissonnette.

The International Sculpture Symposium returns to Nashua for three weeks to create large outdoor sculptures for the city. The 14th annual symposium is scheduled from May 20 to June 12.

On any given day in the months ahead, a stroll through downtown Nashua can included a guided tour of the many murals through online apps like DISTRX; lunch surrounded by colorful, freshly painted barriers that reflect the same mural styles; art on exhibit in storefront windows; and sculpture from current and past symposiums.

“We are hoping that with the painting of the barriers and the return of downtown with the good weather that we are activating Main Street as an outdoor, open-air gallery,” says Bissonnette.

“The murals are a fantastic component of that exhibit, as is Meri’s visual art in the Telegraph windows. There is a lot of fantastic sculpture downtown. We are the only city in the country with a sculpture symposium in which all the work becomes public property.”

The ArtWalk through downtown, traditionally held in October, was entirely virtual last year, but by October of this year Bissonnette hopes City Arts will be able to return to some in-person events.

“We are hoping there will be in-person components because by mid- to late-October, that will feel comfortable. But we expect there will still be a strong element of virtual programming,” she said.

And all of that takes place against the backdrop of a major demolition and construction project in progress throughout the year, as the Nashua Performing Arts Center rises from the debris of the old Alec’s Shoe building in the heart of downtown.

Nashua’s art scene didn’t contract during the worst of the COVID pandemic. In many ways it continued to thrive and is on the verge of a sensational summer, thanks to collaboration among all the city arts groups, City Hall and private businesses.

“It was definitely not only because of City Arts,” says Bissonnette. “Nashua actually has a really vibrant, really active arts scene, which must be the best kept secret in the state because we are not so good at marketing ourselves.”

Maybe 2021 will be the year the secret finally gets out.

David Solomon was executive editor of the Nashua Telegraph from 2001 to 2011 and a senior staff writer with the New Hampshire Union Leader from 2012 to 2019. His column appears on alternate Thursdays. He can be reached at dave@scdigital.com.

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