You might not even notice it as you hustle through the doors of the CVS in Davis Square to pick up toothpaste or toilet paper, but the building is home to a beloved, hidden-in-plain-sight art exhibition space known as the Inside Out Gallery.
Introduced more than eight years ago as an arrangement between the building owner and the city, the gallery is actually just two large window displays outside the CVS. Rather than stocking sponsored seasonal beauty products or highlighting sales, these windows host a rotating exhibit curated by the Somerville Arts Council, offering visitors and shoppers something local artist Diane Novetsky calls an “art moment.”
“Unlike a retail gallery space that is dedicated to showcasing art within a perfect ‘white cube,’ this space insinuates itself on an unsuspecting viewer, not intending to look at art at all,” says Novetsky, who’s showing her paintings there throughout March.
Heather Balchunas of the SAC is responsible for programming the windows, which often display paintings or drawings but can be adapted to host all sorts of creative works.
“I love different kinds of art,” Balchunas explains. “I have a very broad view of what art can be and how it relates to the public.”
Balchunas says she loves the role because it allows her to work closely with a network of local artists and give them a platform for experimentation.
“I try to encourage artists to use this as an opportunity to think outside the box and to let your imagination go wild,” Balchunas says. “You can do a lot with it. You can really kind of create something very unique, and artists have done that.”
With a new exhibit every month or so, Balchunas has overseen many dozens of displays since she took over in 2009. The windows can be guest curated and are regularly dedicated to events like ArtBeat or HONK! Festival, tying into citywide arts efforts. From ripped charcoal drawings and large-scale prints to video installations and group exhibitions, the Inside Out Gallery can house just about anything—including exhibits with a social mission, like one installation that featured moving portraits of homeless people in Somerville.
Somerville Homeless Coalition Executive Director Mark Alston-Follansbee has an office in the same building as the gallery, and he says art can play a key role in promoting understanding.
“We always hope that if people understand the story, then they’ll have more empathy and be more supportive,” Alston- Follansbee says.
Chris Iwerks is a member of the Davis Action Group, a collection of community members working to ensure that Davis Square maintains its unique character as it develops. He observes that the Inside Out Gallery overlooks a particularly busy area of the square, a “crossroads with a lively dance of activity,” where it’s especially important to showcase public art.
“I don’t think people imagine how much worse it would be if this wall was instead comprised of large windows emitting a garish wash of bare-bulbed fluorescent light out over the square every night,” Iwerks says. A self-described “case study in the gallery’s ability to make connections,” Iwerks says he contacted a local artist after seeing her exhibition in the Inside Out Gallery a few years ago and later went on to purchase that artist’s work.
Upcoming Inside Out Gallery exhibits will include abstract paintings by Novetsky and first-time artists in concert with Somerville Open Studios—all opportunities for more “art moments” in busy Davis Square.
This story originally appeared in the March/April print edition of Scout, which is available for free at more than 220 drop spots throughout Somerville (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.