By Mo Schweiger
“I want to show people that you don’t have to have a lot of money or experience to make art,” says Hannah Brookman, president of Looky Here! in Greenfield. Looky Here!, affectionately referred to as “Looky” by patrons, has existed in its current storefront on Chapman Street in Greenfield since 2017. “The space was an empty storefront already called Looky Here!,” says Brookman, who decided with nine other artists to split the cost of renting it and create a community space for visual artists to come together and display their work.
“You have to be really brave to meet other visual artists. There are always venues for musicians to gather in, but it’s really hard to find other artists. I wanted to see and be seen by other artists,” Brookman mused about what drove her to conceptualize Looky.
The goal from the outset was simple: create a resource for artists within the Greenfield community. The original ten founders planned to purchase a Risograph machine to operate as the “cash cow” for Looky, raising money that would help establish it as a gallery space, recycled art material thrift shop, and workshop venue. After a successful but tumultuous opening show that led to the dissolution of most of the original founders, Brookman became the President of Looky Here! and forged ahead with the operation of the space alongside Vice President Beverly Ketch, Treasurer Abby Rusk, and Secretary Sarah Lanzillota (current owner of Greenfield bar and music venue 10Forward). After the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic combined with the demands of other projects, Brookman remains at the helm of Looky as “the last one standing.”
“It’s really just me making shit up every day,” Brookman remarked about the operation of Looky Here!.
Even so, her commitment to her vision of what Looky can be drives her to continue running it. “I hope that I can help build a community that supports each other and knows how to do shit,” she says. “My future utopian vision is a community where we make things for one another, and I see that happening at Looky Here! and in the Pioneer Valley at large” she adds.
Currently, Looky Here! hosts bi-weekly figure drawing workshops, an at-capacity writing workshop on the power of personal narrative, and weekly drop-in art workshops. Art by two local Greenfield artists adorns the walls of the gallery, ceiling-high shelves packed with recycled art materials line the back half of the space, and the storefront’s large windows look out on a community garden that Brookman planted in what used to be an empty lot. “Unhoused people who used to sit on the sidewalk now sit in the garden,” Brookman says, looking out the window with pride.
Running Looky almost entirely by herself has proven to be a difficult task. “I try to diversify as much as possible to pay rent, but it’s really hard,” she says. “It’s hard for me to ask for help, but I’m struggling to figure out how to garner more engagement,” she added. Just last month Brookman considered closing Looky’s doors for good after low workshop attendance made the project almost too expensive to continue. “The thought just made me so sad – there’s nothing else I want to do but this isn’t sustainable as it is, especially with me doing it alone.”
“People think that because they engage with something online that they’re part of it, but that’s not enough to keep [Looky Here!] running” Brookman says. “I would love to interview people to find a good fit for a board of Looky. Weekly volunteering, sorting donations and helping send out mail art packages would also be a huge help.”
Still, Brookman remains committed to the mission of “artistry over apathy,” in the tradition of the 19th century artist, writer, and socialist William Morris who encouraged the adornment of one’s own life when artists were being forced to leave their art practices behind to work in factories during the Industrial Revolution (and whose essays Brookman prints on the Risograph and sells at Looky). On July 30th, Looky is teaming up with the Massachusetts Kate Bush Society to host the annual Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever, an event at which participants dress in all red and recreate the dance in the music video for Kate Bush’s 1978 hit “Wuthering Heights”, at Energy Park in Greenfield.
“Turnout was huge last time. It was so moving because Kate Bush means so much to people. There were many very sweet older ladies hugging each other and crying,” Brookman said, as we watched a recording of 2019’s festivities. Commemorative posters of the event printed on Looky’s Risograph will be available for purchase at Energy Park, as well as postcards celebrating it.
Brookman remains hopeful about the future of Looky Here!, proclaiming “If we survived COVID, we have some longevity. We could have failed every single day – but we didn’t.”
Mo Schweiger is a writer, barista, and lover of pop culture living in Amherst with their roommates who they love very much.
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