A new art gallery in Amherst brings a whole new meaning to art for a cause. In making a purchase from the Freedom Trails Gallery, buyers get the chance to contribute to society, both at a local and global level.
As part of the Valley Frameworks store, Freedom Trails Gallery was conceptualized by owner Ani Rivera, who says he wanted to make art affordable for the community while raising funds for nonprofit organizations through creative methods. “As opposed to thinking outside the box, we call this thinking outside the frame,” Rivera said.
Freedom Trails Gallery, which opens Dec. 1, will feature pieces from various organizations with which Valley Frameworks collaborates, along with Rivera’s own works, ranging from prints of photographs, paintings and sketches. First up: artwork from Friends of Children Inc., Stavros and Kupanda International are on display at the gallery.
“The idea is that the artwork and photography from these organizations will be available for a small fee,” explained Rivera. “But 100 percent of the art sale will go back to the nonprofit organization.”
Rivera says the name, Freedom Trails Gallery, is consistent with his vision of providing free and accessible art to a community.
“Art can also move and change the direction a person is currently on,” Rivera said. “An image or photograph may inspire someone to take a different trail or path.”
The idea of the gallery was inspired by a program that Rivera began with Friends of Children, a child advocacy organization offering services to help foster and special-needs children. Called “Seeing Their Voices,” the program involved Rivera teaching the foster children photography to equip them with some skill sets.
“The idea was to empower these young adults to look around at the beauty of the world through photography. I wanted to give them skills and interests that might inspire them,” Rivera said. “It inspired me to work with the community, as the experience brought back my own memories of growing up in Harlem and the Bronx.”
Friends of Children executive director Jane Lyons, who says she had never before considered art as a part of the group’s advocacy, said the Freedom Trails Gallery provides a space for public exposure that most nonprofit organizations would never have had.
“This is an interesting relationship between art and nonprofit that is being developed. … It has become a way for the children to express and speak up for themselves,” Lyons said. “The exhibit is also to educate everyone in the public, from everyday citizens to policy makers and legislators,” she added. “It is about what needs to be changed.”
Rivera also sees the gallery as an outlet to showcase work from the charities with which Valley Frameworks works. He says he hopes to instill in people the need to contribute to society.
“I want people to be conscious that their money spent on designing their space could have an impact in supporting these organizations and artists in a community that needs it,” he said. “This gallery enables them to help people in the lower end of the economic ladder.”
In addition to Friends of Children, the gallery will exhibit photographs from Kupanda, an organization to build libraries in Kenya initiated by Shira Kaufman and Abigail Tuominen, Amherst Regional High School graduates from 2010. Representing Stavros, an organization that offers services and aid to disabled people while advocating for them, is Ed Kwaitkowski, a Holyoke native who uses a wheelchair and paints using his right foot.
Rivera says he hopes to work with more organizations in raising funds for the nonprofit sector.
“We hope people will be encouraged by this approach, as this allows them to contribute to each foundation,” he said.