A few years ago, Luc Abbott, a marketing consultant who works with various clients in the area, decided to produce an online guide of regional businesses and organizations that, broadly speaking, embodied progressive values and contributed to the Valley’s vibrancy.
Abbott, a 2012 Mount Holyoke College grad, called the project “Bloom Local,” figuring the guide could help those businesses and groups “bloom” by making connections and expanding their overall efforts and outreach.
But Abbott heard back in particular from members of the LGBTQ+ community while putting the guide together: Why not put together something specifically geared to people and businesses in that group?
That’s just what they’ve done. Abbott, who is transgender and nonbinary, has expanded their original idea to encompass a guide to LGBTQ+ businesses, and businesses allied with that community, as well as an art gallery and meeting/event space.
That space, “The Bloomery,” which opened late last summer, is dedicated to artists and to what Abbott calls “queer creativity.”
“I was really interested in creating some kind of safe space where people could get together,” Abbott said during a recent phone call. “We’ve seen some real concerns in different parts of the country with how (LGBTQ+) people are being targeted … It’s a difficult climate we’re in.”
The cozy gallery, at 17 South Street in the DA Sullivan Building in downtown Northampton, features a new exhibit every month except during summer. The Bloomery is also a setting for meetings and other events.
“We’re still exploring different ideas, but art is a great starting point,” said Abbott, who’s also a photographer and poet. “There is so much creativity in this area, so many talented artists.
“This is also a less formal kind of gallery, where artists can try out new ideas and approaches,” they added. “I think we need more of those kind of low-pressure places.”
On a recent Friday evening, people gathered at The Bloomery to check out a new exhibit, “the invisible stickiness of things,” by Greenfield painter and teacher Maria Sparrow, who says she’s shown her work in some locations in Greenfield but is making her debut in Northampton with this show.
In an email, Sparrow said her new paintings are portraits of “chosen family which play with different degrees of collaboration with the people represented in them. It happens that the people in these paintings are both queer-identifying and that I’m queer-identifying myself.
“With this series, I was chiefly looking to reflect back and affirm how the subjects are representing themselves in different ways,” she added. “It also became about the different selves we contain and how our ‘selves’ are constituted by our relationships to one another.”
Sparrow, who also does some work with collage and fabric, said she’s thrilled with what Abbott has created both with Bloom Local and The Bloomery.
“It seems to me to be a deeply generous project … and a very beautiful one,” she said. “Luc puts a lot of thought into creating space and also has made me feel extremely supported as an artist putting my work out into the world.”
She added that she hopes many other artists can get to benefit from the space.
Abbott previously worked for the Emily Dickinson Museum in a few different capacities, and they also spent two years as a marketing and communications manager for the Northampton Chamber of Commerce. Abbott co-owned a wedding photography business for a few years as well.
In 2021, Abbott formed a solo marketing business to work with different clients, including small businesses, artists and some nonprofit groups. It was out of that work that the Bloom Local business guide was born.
There are about 33 businesses and organizations listed in the new guide, Abbott said. “The whole thing has kind of grown organically, and I hope we can keep expanding it.”
Abbott said the importance of having a safe gathering place for the LGBTQ+ community, even in an area where members of that community generally find acceptance, can’t be overstated.
“Nationwide, we’ve seen a huge numbers of gay bars that have closed in the last few years,” they said. Abbott also pointed to legislation passed in some states preventing school discussions of gender issues for younger students, and accusations of “grooming” made against people who object to those laws.
As Abbott put it in a press release, “As the queer and trans communities weather an increase in hate crimes and discrimination, and as anti-trans bills continue to be introduced across the United States — our survival depends on our visibility: our art, our thoughts, our voices being heard … and we need allies listening and responding and supporting.”
With Bloom Local, Abbott added, “We hope to be an important part of that effort.”
For more information on Bloom Local and The Bloomery, visit bloomlocal.live. Art exhibits in the gallery can be seem by appointment and during regular events.
Steve Pfarrer can be reached at email@example.com.