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New Berlin gallery hosts successful opening reception

(Sept. 3, 2015) The memory of the former Mid Atlantic Pain Medicine building, vacant for more than a year in downtown Berlin and sometimes referred to as an eyesore, is fading quickly.
That’s because Foster and Lisa Schoch formally opened the doors to the revitalized space last Friday to reveal their Art in the Fields Gallery, which is filled with dozens of works from Andy Warhol’s renowned “Sunday B. Morning” series.
Foster, who did much of renovation himself, poured Burley Oak beer outside during the opening reception, while Lisa welcomed guests and snapped photos inside the gallery, now essentially a two-room building with high ceilings and bright gallery lighting.
Visitors at the opening were impressed by the transformation and expressed their excitement of what the gallery brings to Berlin.
Among the enthusiasts was Economic and Community Development Director Ivy Wells, who was an instrumental figure in filling the vacant space.
“When I first got here, one of the things I talked to a lot of people about was the number one thing they’d like to improve on Main Street,” Wells said. “[Gazette Publisher] Elaine Brady looked across the street and said, ‘What about that building?’ It would be really nice to have something there.”
Wells said she used social media to solicit prospective buyers and eventually connected with the Schochs.
“I didn’t picture a gallery,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going to be here. It just kind of happened over night.”
Wells helped the family secure money for a portion of the revitalization using a façade grant, which specifically went toward the spacious outdoor patio with a seating area.
She said she was taken aback by the response during the opening reception.
“I’ve been to several ribbon cuttings for some of the businesses here and this by far was the most well attended,” Wells said. “I think people are excited to have an art gallery here. It brings a whole new feel to our Main Street. We’re not just boutiques and restaurants – we actually do have several art galleries here, and we have artists in Berlin.
“Everyone asks me what makes Berlin so cool – why is it America’s coolest small town? I think this new gallery is a great example, and it just adds some extra cool onto what we were already doing,” Wells added.
Mayor Gee Williams said the gallery was a perfect addition to the arts and entertainment aspect of Berlin.
“I think it can be a wonderful attraction – not just for our guests – but for our local residents in town and in the region, and for all kinds of experiences,” he said. “It’s a great way to enjoy art you already appreciate, and I think it’s also going to be great for people to widen their art experience.”
Williams said he has already spoken to the owners about the potential for educational experiences involving local school children.
“Working with the schools, working with other youth groups, working with the Berlin Youth Club – that’s just the beginning,” he said.
A lifelong Berliner, Williams said he never pictured the downtown of his youth transforming into the busy, vibrant sector it is today.
“The neat thing is there are so many people who have bought in,” he said. “It’s not just locals who have been here for generations. It’s a really good, energetic mix of new citizens and residents and some of the folks who have been around a while who understood that change is necessary. That combination has opened up ideas we had never dreamed of – and this is one of them.
“If I had told someone 10 years ago that this kind of business would open on Main Street, I think they would have laughed at me,” Williams continued. “No one is laughing anymore when we talk about possibilities.”
Larnet St. Amant, executive director of the Berlin Chamber of Commerce was effusive in his praise of Art in the Fields.
“I think the space lends itself to so many upcoming events,” she said. “My wheels are spinning. I’m already thinking about how we can use this place to promote the town and promote them. They’re very willing and able and welcoming to the town and they can’t wait to help us and let us help them. We’re thrilled.”
Gallery Director Kelly Lehman said she was surprised by the strong turnout.
“A lot of people said they’d be there and they kept their word and actually showed up,” she said. “I feel really fortunate and happy.”
Up next, the gallery is planning an exhibition of work by French artist and designer Erté in late September or early October. Lehman said the gallery is also working with local school groups to set up tours.
While the large room that houses the Warhol exhibit should change monthly, Foster Schoch said the smaller space close to the entrance would also rotate in new work on a regular basis.
“We’ll try to keep this fresh,” he said. “Something like the [Italian artist Gio] Colucci. I love this stuff, but I probably have a dozen pieces of Colucci, which is not enough to go up in [the main gallery]. They’re all originals, which is nice, and they’re all gauche, but I just don’t have enough.”
Schoch said he was delighted with the turnout.
“If anyone had shown up, I’d be happy, to be honest,” he said. “We’re happy that people came by. Kelly got it all together, so it got the word out, and we’ll see what happens in the next weeks and months.”