The Social Arts Project got its roots after the flood of 2011, when town committees were formed to help with the rebuilding and revitalization of the devastated Wilmington village. Renee Galle, Michelle and Dale Doucette, Mary Wright, and Jen Violette, were all members of the town’s revitalization through circularization committee, whose aim was to create a walkable, connected downtown that also featured eye-grabbing storefront windows and creative and interesting art displays throughout the village. This gang of five built such a rapport working with one another that they decided to continue working together after the post-flood committees began to disband.
“ We worked so well together and got things done, so when the FEMA process ended, we thought we should continue our work, but with a focus on arts,” said Michelle Doucette.
All five members have also been active members of other committees in town or have worked on projects such as the Village Stroll, chamber events, Bright Lights, and the Blueberry Festival. Social Arts Project has overlapped with Village Strolls on multiple occasions, creating visual art displays to accentuate each occasion. During the Wine and Harvest Festival, the pergola in Bank Park was turned into a grapevine with small purple balloons. If you were wondering who got all of those jack-o’-lanterns to spook up the same park at Halloween, look no further then the SAP, who carved nearly 40 pumpkins of their own and asked the public to bring theirs down as well.
The SAP features both the artistic in profession, like Wright who owns an art gallery in town and Violette who is a glass blower, and those with a passion and appreciation for the arts. “We’re very like-minded about the value the arts bring to our lives and our town’s revitalization,” said Galle. “All of the groups and events (in Wilmington) have the same goal: to create positive energy, help promote our town, and have some fun.”
While SAP has asked the town for financial backing on a project or two, the group is neither a town-run committee nor a part of Wilmington Works. Instead, the members like to refer to it as a “citizens involvement group,” one that is independent, but plans on accentuating everything fun in the village through any possible art form, from musical to culinary. “We settled on the name idea of Social Arts Project because the arts bring people together in social environments,” said Doucette. “We want this to be an ongoing project to bring people together socially in downtown Wilmington.”
While SAP is helping to enhance bigger events in town, as well as beautify the downtown with projects like the “park after dark,” Doucette says the fact the group is not affiliated with the town helps to keep it small. “We want to put up pretty things and be citizens involved rather then go through too much process,” said Doucette. “It’s simple and it doesn’t require politics. It is important to have structured committees but there is a sense of freedom in being independent.”
“We often talk about putting good energy into things,” added Galle. “It’s not about controlling anything, it’s about letting the fun reverberate around the community. So it’s important to keep it small, and don’t get bogged down with too many cooks in the kitchen.”
While SAP likes remaining small, they also like to reach out to the community to help them with everything from supplies for projects to coming to events and being a part of the collaboration. Their next project will be featured as part of the Chili and Chimes Village Stroll Saturday.
Village Stroll organizer Shelly Park asked SAP to create something to go along with the Chili and Chimes Stroll, so the group went to work creating over 40 wind chimes out of used ski poles donated from First Trax, Mount Snow, World Class Ski and Sport, and local residents. These wind chimes will be turned into a chandelier to be lit up and hung in Bank Park during the stroll. Those who choose to donate $20, $40, or $60 to the group will be given a wind chime set of their own, with donations going toward making SAP self-sustaining, funding future events by the group.
The Chili and Chimes Village Stroll will feature chili samples from village restaurants, an author event at Bartleby’s Books, and an opportunity to be photographed in Victorian garb outside Chapman’s Antiques.
“The word ‘art’ and some of the hoity-toity language can turn people off, but it doesn’t have to be like that,” said Galle. “SAP would like to show people the artistic side of Wilmington, with arts of all persuasions. The key is to treat the arts as an essential part of our identity, and SAP believes in bringing people together, sparking community pride, and creating a vibrant community for both locals and tourists to enjoy. The arts have the power to transform a community and with that, anything is possible.”