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Bristol's "Art Squad" Transforming the City One Vacant Storefront at a Time

Ginger Grant
The photography of Cat Boyce adorns an empty storefront in the Forestville section of Bristol
Self-proclaimed "cultural ninjas" are stealthily transforming five empty Bristol storefronts into art galleries.

The town of Bristol is in the midst of marketing their new logo and brand: Bristol - All Heart. A group of artists, calling themselves the Bristol Art Squad, are doing their part to showcase the new brand by transforming five vacant storefronts throughout the city into temporary art installations. 

The project is called Operation: Storefront Art, and the Bristol Art Squad sees this as an opportunity to reposition the city in a new way.

"I think the city has really, over the course of the years, lost its identity," said photographer and Bristol Art Squad member Lindsay Vigue.

Vigue's studio is in the old Sessions Clock factory. Her father worked at the factory, a reminder for her of better times for Bristol.

"That was a time when the city could have its identity and pride based on clock manufacturing, and all of these great manufacturing businesses," Vigue said.

Many of those industries left decades ago, but Bristol is hoping to turn their fortunes around, in part with its new, $120,000 marketing brand, Bristol - All Heart.

Artist Ginger Grant loves the new brand, but can't help but wonder whether the empty storefronts around town would negate all of the positive energy from the marketing campaign.

Credit Jessica Paine
Photograper Lindsay Vigue and Artist Ginger Grant are part of the Bristol Art Squad.

"One of the storefronts in the west end had coffee cups all over the ledge," Grant said. "It was like: you are never going to rent this place looking like this, ever."

From all of those Styrofoam coffee cups came a big idea: transform storefronts around the city -- some of them vacant for years -- with art. "We wanted to get throughout Bristol a visual impact, so people could see it right from the road, or from walking areas, or areas we thought could use the help, and getting traffic to their stores," Grant said.

"The mission is two-fold," said Vigue. "One: to obviously give life to these storefronts with artwork, and to give the artists a place for their art to be seen, but also: to show off that storefront, so there's an economic development part of it, too. Hey, we want more businesses and good businesses in the city."

The Art Squad reached out to the city, and with their help -- and permission from the owners of the empty storefronts -- this group of self proclaimed "cultural ninjas" went to work choosing the locations and artists, and stealthily transforming five empty storefronts around town into art galleries.

"It was nice, too, because we kept the whole thing under wraps, and all of the sudden, bam, people are seeing art in storefronts," Vigue said. "It's so fun to see people being like, what is going on here?, and then, boom, it was there."

"One little guy, he stopped -- he could barely walk, he had a cane -- and he stopped at every single piece of art, and literally just looked at it, and we were ready to cry. It was so beautiful that he took the time to look at every single piece," said Grant.

City officials are also looking, and like what they see. The city has asked the Art Squad to spruce up some boarded up, condemned buildings downtown with work from Bristol artists.

The storefront installations run through May 15, but the Art Squad promises similar installations, and other surprises, in the coming months.

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