NORTH BENNINGTON — For its 24th year, the annual North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show is returning to its usual scale and continuing a partnership with the Bennington Museum arranged last year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The multi-site show begins on Saturday with its customary opening celebration at the Vermont Arts Exchange, next to the North Bennington Post Office. The event will run from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and include a performance by the band Saints and Liars.
Last year, in light of the pandemic, the kickoff event was not held as part of the show, which featured about 25 artists, a smaller number than usual.
This year, more than 50 sculptors from the surrounding area, both emerging and more established, will share works through the show, which will run through Nov. 7.
Curator Joe Chirchirillo, the show’s lead organizer for nearly a decade, said the exhibition constitutes an effort to “put Bennington on the map in terms of sculpture.”
The show began with Bennington College students “just wanting to have a place to put their work in front of people,” Chirchirillo said, and has since gone through a variety of iterations.
The show seeks to involve as many community members as possible in its production and depends on support from an array of local entities and individuals, according to the curator.
“It’s a difficult thing” to cobble together dozens of sculptures for the annual exhibition “without a big budget,” said Chirchirillo, whose role is unpaid.
Artists do not receive stipends for participating in the show, but their pieces on display are for sale. Sculpture sales help to encourage artists’ participation, Chirchirillo said.
The exhibition last year “went great,” Chirchirillo said, adding that he was “surprised and pleased” to see how many people ventured to the Bennington Museum to see the pieces displayed around its 10-acre campus.
Bennington Museum curator Jamie Franklin said the collaboration was a product of the institution wanting to expand how visitors experience its campus and the need to create safe outdoor programming amid the pandemic.
“We were happy with how the collaboration turned out,” Franklin said, adding that for this year it has been expanded.
This year, 45 pieces will be displayed at North Bennington sites, and another 26 pieces will be displayed at the Bennington Museum.
The North Bennington sites hosting works include the VAE, the train depot, Whitman’s Feed Store, Bennington College’s Welling Townhouse, Stuart Aldrich’s house and — new for this year — Hiland Hall Gardens. Maps are available on-site.
“North Bennington is fertile ground for creativity — it has been for years,” said Matthew Perry, executive director of VAE and a sculptor himself. “The sculpture show is just a natural part of that.”
Perry pointed to three sculptures made several years ago for the show through a collaboration between students from the Village School of North Bennington and Bennington College, which are still displayed on VAE property, as examples of how the exhibition sparks creativity and is accessible to emerging artists.
Sandra Magsamen, a board member of Friends of Hiland Hall Gardens, said the five pieces on display at the site encourage guests to consider relationships between sculpture and nature. One of the pieces is made from vines that the artist, Bill Botzow, found on his property, she said.
Chirchirillo said he aims to secure the involvement of about 15 new artists in the show each year. Some participate for only one year, while others become recurring contributors.
Chirchirillo typically reaches out to artists to invite them to participate in the show, he said. While in his own sculptural practice he tends to favor materials like concrete or steel, for the exhibition he seeks to assemble works that represent a diversity of styles.
The one criterion, he added, is that the sculptures must be built to last until at least the end of the show.
It takes hours to decide where specific sculptures should be placed, Chirchirillo said, though for some pieces, the preferred location is obvious. If an artwork needs to hang from a tree, for instance, there are only so many places where that is feasible.
The difficulty of installing sculptures also varies considerably, Chirchirillo explained. Some pieces are modular, meaning they might fit in the back of someone’s hatchback, while others require a truck or even help from sponsor Art Whitman, whose tractor comes in handy for especially heavy works.
The opening event and show are sponsored by the Fund for North Bennington, Paran Recreations, Bennington Museum, Bennington College, Marigold Kitchen, Pangea Restaurant, Art Whitman, GVH Studio, Stuart Aldrich and the Vermont Arts Exchange.