Metro, Arts

SoWa Artists Welcome New Customers

The SoWa Art + Design District welcomes guests to explore over 60 galleries and meet artists in their element on the first Friday of every month. 

The area is home to the largest concentration of contemporary art galleries in Boston, according to its website. There are more than 20 galleries within a two-block radius and are accessible on a pedestrian-only road. 

The artists, galleries, shops, and showrooms are open to the public for free on the first Friday of every month. From 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., customers can observe artists as they create their work, view gallery exhibits, and purchase artwork, according to SoWa’s website

SoWa is a nickname derived from the Boston neighborhood South of Washington and encompasses the area from East Brookline St. to East Berkeley St. and from Shawmut Ave. to Albany St.  

“First Fridays” are open with a limited capacity to prioritize safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to SoWa’s website. 

Artist Maria Palkon has exhibited her work at SoWa for two years. She said she is a psaligrapher who focuses on creating paper cutouts—psaligraphy involves the art of cutting out silhouettes. 

“Today has been the busiest it has been in over a year,” Palkon said. 

Palkon said this is encouraging news, considering how the pandemic restricted artists from opening their doors to the public. 

“We did not know the nature of the pandemic [in March of 2020], so everyone pretty much just abandoned their spaces,” Palkon said. “We were totally closed, and for many of the artists in the building, this is their full time job.” 

As restrictions begin to ease up and more residents receive vaccines, Palkon welcomes the new attendees. 

“Now that we’re getting vaccinated, we’re starting to feel more comfortable opening our doors on First Fridays, which is what we loved doing from the very beginning,” Palkon said. “This is what this is for—it is our work space, but it is also a public space. We are so happy to be able to start doing that again.” 

Duken Delpe, who has been a part of SoWa for six years, is both a practicing nurse and an artist. Delpe works with recycled materials to create mosaic planters, paintings, and sculptures. As a mixed-media artist, he combines paint with a variety of repurposed materials, including wires, electronic waste, and narcotics containers. 

He said that he uses stories and experiences from his daily life as inspiration for his work. 

“I work as a nurse, and I give a lot of narcotics to patients,” Delpe said. “And I know that a person will have a legitimate use for it, which is pain or hip surgery, and then, after they use those narcotics to take away their pain, they may become addicted to it, which changes their lives. I am very touched by addiction, so I do some art on it.” 

While closing their exhibits last year was difficult, Palkon and Delpe both said they anticipate more business as pandemic restrictions relax and vaccines become more available. 

“It was painful,” Delpe said. “There were many artists who left the building because they could not afford it.” 

Deborah MacFail, who specializes in jewelry, said she has exhibited her work at SoWa for 12 years. 

“I expect for the spring that things will get better,” MacFail said. “Everyone who walked in the door tonight had never been in the building before, which is phenomenal.”

MacFail said that in prior years the customers of SoWa market were regulars. This spring, MacFail said there were many newcomers looking to explore Boston’s art scene as more of the pandemic restrictions were lifted. 

“It’s interesting that I am seeing a lot of people who are coming in for the first time because their lives have slowed down a little bit,” MacFail said. “And I ask them, ‘Have you been to the building before?’ and they say, ‘No, we’ve always wanted to, and we finally have the chance to do it,’ so they’re starting to venture out.” 

SoWa offers a wide range of artistic mediums created by a variety of contemporary artists. From more traditional techniques including oil on canvas and photography to wire statues, paper cutouts, and recycled packaging, SoWa has art to satisfy everyone’s unique tastes. 

Visiting from Florida, Leonela Suazo said that she felt completely safe while attending. 

“The artists were concerned for safety as much as the guests were, and no one had to be reminded to put on a mask or keep a distance from each other,” Suazo said. 

Featured Image By Elinor Ketelhohn / Heights Staff

April 19, 2021