FLORENCE — Donnabelle Casis had been living in Florence for almost 10 years when she started thinking about organizing some sort of event that would showcase the artistic energy she had come to experience in her adopted hometown.
“I had met so many talented artists and musicians here, writers, creatives, etc. painting from the University of Washington in Seattle. “I wanted to find a way to celebrate that, using Florence as the center.”
Thus was born Florence Night Out (FNO) in 2013, a free one-day festival that featured open art studios, live music and other events, held indoors at various downtown venues. from Florence and the surrounding area; it drew some 800 people to the village, organizers said.
After a few years of similar festivals, then a two-year hiatus, Florence Night Out returned in 2019 in a much bigger format: a block party in which a main street closed to traffic was transformed into a forum for music. , pop art installations, dance, food, crafts and more. It is now scheduled to return on Saturday September 24, bigger than ever.
“I consider this my love letter to Florence,” said Casis, who gathered 10 people crewplus some dedicated volunteers a few years ago to broaden FNO’s reach.
Among those who came on board were Casandra Holden, creative director of Laudable Productions in Easthampton, which runs the Bombyx Center for Arts & Integrity in Florence, and Amanda Herman, curator of education at the University Museum of Contemporary Art (UMCA) in UMass Amherst.
Florence businessman Robert Ross, a longtime member of the Florence Civic and Business Association, is another key figure, serving as FNO’s community coordinator.
“It made a lot of sense to bring in local businesses and people like Robert Ross to help with the logistics and make this a real community event,” Casis said. “Their support has been wonderful.”
FNO 2019 drew some 5,000 people, she noted, and after the event was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, FNO 2021 again drew large crowds, even though people were been asked to wear face masks and continued concerns about COVID-19 have kept some people away. .
“I think a lot of people were just happy to have a place to come together and be outdoors and have fun after all the isolation we had been through,” Casis noted.
FNO 2022 takes place from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. in downtown Florence, with additional events at the Bombyx Center from 4:00 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. (film screenings) and from 7:30 p.m. folk/pop and Hayley Reardon, originally from Massachusetts).
The block party segment, which includes downtown between Chestnut Street and the Florence Civic Center, is packed with events, from dancing to music to assorted art activities. There are three music stages and a variety of bands scheduled to play, including indie-folk duo High Tea, Holyoke rockers The Basement Cats and Gaslight Tinkers, who mix African, Caribbean, funk and reggae beats with traditional violin music.
Another key feature of FNO: the Mobile Art Boxes (MAB), large storage containers that become the setting for unusual art installations. For example, “Limulus Love,” by Jupong Lin, uses a multimedia format to celebrate the Atlantic horseshoe crab, including video projections of crabs dancing and making drawings in the sand. Origami horseshoe crabs also hang in space.
An exhibition by Sarah Stefana Smith, meanwhile, draws on the anti-slavery and abolitionist work of Sojourner Truth by revisiting the “carte-de-visite”, small photographic portraits in their image, which Truth used to spread its message and finance his work,” according to the program notes.
“The Mobile Art Boxes are sort of our signature piece,” Casis said.
Also on display: additional art exhibits, including a side mural by Pivot Media and paintings by Barbara Neulinger and Gabriel Phipps; several dance shows, including a salsa workshop; and arts activities for children and families such as a puppet parade and a printmaking workshop.
FNO 2022 will mark something else: Casis says she will step back from the event to focus on other aspects of her career, and simply to have more time for her art. Among other artistic hats she wears, she is the host of “ArtBeat Report” on WHMP-FM.
FNO “is a big company, a lot of work, and we’ve had seven iterations of it, so I think it’s time for me to move on,” Casis said. “I felt like my goal was to try to help make Florence its own artistic community, and I think we’ve done a good job of that… I’m in the process of pulling my mark .”
In fact, some arts officials and state legislators visited downtown Florence last week to experience its arts and culture scene, during which the Bombyx Center received a $169,000 state grant. $ to do additional work on his building.
It’s unclear what will happen with FNO next year, Casis noted. But she hopes – and feels quite confident – that other organizers will pick up the torch and continue to organize some sort of arts and community event in Florence.
“It could take a different form,” Casis said. “But as long as it has some sort of artistic component, I’d be happy to help that out in some way.”
To learn more about FNO 2022, including volunteer work at the festival, visit florencenightout.org.
Steve Pfarrer can be contacted at [email protected]