Art in the Time of COVID: Peter Schumann to Exhibit Original Work at Rabble-Rouser Chocolate & Craft Co.

Rabble-Rouser Chocolate & Craft Co. is hosting a new art exhibit in its downtown Montpelier café and event space from February 22 to March 31. Entitled The In and Out Show, "Off We Go" riding through "The All" with Bedsheet Mitigations, this exhibit features paintings done on discarded king-sized bedsheets by octogenarian cultural icon, Peter Schumann of Bread & Puppet Theater, hung in Rabble-Rouser’s 8-foot windows overlooking Main Street.

The exhibit extends from inside the Rabble-Rouser factory and windows out into the giant black brick outside wall adjacent to the alley. A wide selection of posters and publications from Bread & Puppet Press/Cheap Art are available for sale in the Rabble-Rouser cafe during the exhibit. In addition to visual art, the gallery includes a piano that is open for passers-by to play. 

The paintings featured in this exhibit were all created during the COVID-19 pandemic, and some were featured in Bread & Puppet’s Insurrection - Lamentation - Resurrection Service performances of 2020-21. This exhibit of The Bedsheet Mitigations is dedicated to the memory of Bread & Puppet collaborator Penelope T. Gregory, "Poppy," (1929-2012). She organized for Bread and Puppet and produced shows in the Boston area, hosting the theater innumerable times, feeding the puppeteers her famous dolmas and spanakopita. A grandmother to B&P community, a generous and upbeat woman, Poppy is being honored because of her lifetime support of justice and peace. When asked for comment on the dedication, Schumann said "the divine spanakopita poppy of the sacred heart singing glory."

Art is an ancient coping mechanism for oppression, inequality and boredom--all the conditions of 2020. People's creative impulses have exploded the whole world over as a result of the intense solitude experienced by all of humanity, all at once. At the same time, public institutions, including theatres and museums, are shuttering--whether temporarily or permanently--and formerly immersive cultural experiences are being relegated to the small corners of our lives. The new Rabble-Rouser art gallery represents a "third place”-- a place where people can go besides their homes and workplaces, if only briefly, to experience beauty and briefly escape the mundanity of the times.

"History shows us that when times are tough, people make art to help their spirit survive," says Rabble-Rouser rising-owner and shopkeeper, Maia Castonguay. “In turn, this art lifts the spirits of the community. Our customers often just come in for a macchiato and are thrilled to stumble upon this art gallery - it’s been a bright spot for them in the middle of this dreary pandemic.”

As a result of social distancing measures (Rabble-Rouser is currently operating at 30-50% capacity) and through the leveraging of state and national COVID-19 relief funding, the chocolate factory was able to dedicate 1,200 square feet of their downtown Montpelier space to this free community art gallery. The ingenuity at 64 Main Street is an example to other business owners of how to think in new, radically generous ways about their resources and communities, and to engender cultural growth where there would otherwise be shuttered windows and taped-off spaces.

Rabble-Rouser has already curated multiple exhibits in the space, featuring the work of local artists Ryan Geary, MytheBe, Natasha Bogar, and Nicholas Hecht of the Pyralisk Theatre. Upcoming events include a book release and visual art exhibit from Eleanor Ott in April, and a 75th birthday show from Diane Kaganova that will launch on Mayday. They are hopeful that Schumann will be able enact a live event outside the chocolate factory later this spring, and that their gallery will evolve as an outpost for theater and Cheap Art Press over the long term.