"You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain."
A quote from Harvey Dent/Two Face in The Dark Knight might seem like a strange way to begin an article about the new Walkabout Tremont, but if you'll allow me a moment to explain, I believe it exemplifies Tremont's legacy as an arts community.
The second weekend in May is billed as a new era for Tremont. After more than 20 years, the Tremont ArtWalk is now Walkabout Tremont. With very few galleries to walk to, the name change signals the current direction of the neighborhood — for better or worse.
This new monthly series expands the event to stretch throughout the weekend, promising an increased emphasis on art, music, street entertainment, local history, and restaurant and bar specials. However, as of this week's deadline, very little information could be found anywhere online. The "Walkabout Map" page of their website is filled with gibberish written in Latin. Their Facebook page doesn't list any specific details either, but organizers promise printed maps with detailed info will be in the neighborhood in time for this Friday's kickoff event, from 6 to 9 p.m.
"Walkabout Tremont is a re-imagination of the Tremont ArtWalk — a continuation of the artistic spirit and innovation Jean Brandt fostered for 23 years," says Lynn Murray, president of the Tremont West Development Corporation Board of Directors. "The essence of Walkabout Tremont is a new emphasis on all that is creative in our community: gallery art, performance art, fashion, food, specialty retail and services, as well as our churches and local history."
After more than 20 years of grassroots, DIY efforts by local artists and gallery owners, Murray says that a core group of roughly 20 volunteers, including artists, business owners and residents, has been meeting for the past six months to organize this new monthly event that properly reflects the current state of the neighborhood.
Pop-up tents will feature artwork from artists residing within and outside Tremont. On the second Friday of every month, beginning this Friday, May 13, Walkabout Tremont will include exhibitor tent space along Professor, College and Kenilworth avenues.
Tents are being rented to artists, craftspeople and small nonprofits for $75 each, with discounts available for the advanced purchase of multiple months. Still much more affordable than most arts festivals, these fees seem a bit absurd as the economically thriving neighborhood tries to entice artists to help it regain its position as a cultural hotspot, especially considering the lack of proper promotion online in advance of this first event.
With these tents, organizers hope to recreate the energy and atmosphere of one of the neighborhood's most popular events, the summer's annual Tremont Arts and Cultural Festival.
As far as physical venues, they are few and far between, but examples include Doubting Thomas, Calluna, Mastroianni Arts, House Tremont Gallery and Paul Duda Gallery (which also houses Hartshorn Studios).
Aside from these examples, artists are relegated to the walls of various bars, restaurants and coffee shops. To be fair, Loop coffee shop has been one of the more active venues for exhibiting work. Although only one wall, the space is curated by Amanda Lee, who works hard to promote the exhibitions through social media.
The efforts of the artists still living in the neighborhood cannot be overstated, but to understand the true gravity of where Tremont now finds itself, we must explore its recent history more in depth.
For 23 years, local artists and gallerists like Jean Brandt, Dana Depew, Steven Mastrioanni, Mikel Mahoney, Sandy Rotkowski and others worked tirelessly to turn Tremont into, what was at one point, the region's most active and well-known art community. During a period of extremely affordable rent, the neighborhood attracted countless artists, musicians, writers and a plethora of the best kinds of weirdos.
However, with the successful revitalization efforts of artists and galleries, and with word spreading throughout the region, rent began to rise steadily. Restaurants and bars began paying income-based rent to landlords who couldn't expect the same kind of revenue from galleries, and young professionals began flocking to the neighborhood from the suburbs like migratory birds. Soon, the neighborhood had outpriced many of the artists and galleries that had made it intriguing in the first place. Each gallery that closed did so for its own unique reasons, but rising rent was a major issue for Tremont's early tenants.
Today, it's known as a great place to eat and drink, but the art has become more of a backdrop than the focal point. Don't get us wrong, we love Tremont for many reasons; but it hasn't been an art community in a long time.
For the past several years, the neighborhood's monthly "Second Friday" ArtWalk had become a shell of its former self. As galleries like Asterisk, Brandt Gallery and Raw and Company closed their doors, no one stepped in to fill the void. Instead, the artists and gallery owners moved to neighborhoods like Collinwood's Waterloo Arts District and Gordon Square's 78th Street Studios. That being said, it was certainly time for a rebranding for the neighborhood once best known for its arts community.
However, as far as whether they've died a hero or lived long enough to become a villain, the answer may be both, like a double-sided Two Face coin.