On Friday, March 11, Sparrow Art Supply opened its doors for local Middlebury artists, students and other community members eager to explore the addition of a new shop on Main Street. The store is located at 52 Main Street, a few doors down from Buy Again Alley on the corner adjacent to the bridge over Otter Creek.
Before moving to the area, founders Beth Svenningsen and her fiance had been considering moving to Middlebury for a time due to the convenience of nearby ski areas and a love of the small-town community. The emergence of Covid-19 while the couple were still living in their New York City home accelerated their move. As a practicing artist, Svenningsen researched art supply stores in Middlebury to anticipate where she might get her supplies, but found the nearest store was an hour away. She then had the idea to start her own art supply store in town.
“It just planted this seed in my mind,” Svenningsen said.
She applied for a grant with Kick Start Middlebury, a program designed to create incentives for new business creation in Middlebury. The application required building a business plan and thus, helped turn her idea into reality.
While Svenningsen created Sparrow Art Supply out of a need for closer art supply options for locals, herself included, she also mentioned her aims for the shop to become something bigger and more impactful.
“The idea for the store really came out of a need for the creative community in the area and the desire to create a creative community hub here,” she said. Her emphasis on community has guided her approach to the management of the store.
Svenningsen mentioned three key components to her business: a retail art supply store, a gallery to showcase local artists’ work, and community events such as workshops, open drawing sessions and club meetings. The store will carry items such as sketchbooks, oil paints, printmaking supplies and various other supplies that customers might need.
The shop is also home to a gallery, in which it will showcase a variety of art from people throughout the community. On opening night, the gallery hosted a show entitled “Nice to Meet You,” featuring over forty artists’ work after the store put out a call to artists.
“The idea was, ‘I’m really excited to be joining the downtown scene, wouldn’t it be fun if other artists got the chance to introduce themselves to the gallery and to the community here,’” Svenningsen said. The show embodied Svenningsen’s idea of community as customers streamed in to see the work.
The final prong of Svenningsen’s vision for Sparrow Art Supply involves community events, which she notes are still developing but will come in the near future. She hopes the shop will be open for artist workshops as well as open drawing sessions and club meetings. Svenningsen draws on her past experience at open drawing sessions in New York City as inspiration for these events.
“I would go with my friends or with my sister and we’d sit there and we’d chat and we’d draw separately and it was really fun,” she said.
Svenningsen has made it a significant part of her business to serve the community, which has informed her preparations for the store and will continue to guide her adaptations as the business grows.
“I’m really here for feedback,” she said. “I even have a survey up on my website if anyone wants to give their two cents.”
The survey gathers information on favorite brands, particular products customers would like to see in the store, as well as workshops they might like to attend, to give Svenningsen a better idea of what customers want from a shop like hers. This sense of inclusivity extends to the types of products she is offering, ranging from student-grade materials to professional supplies, accessible to any type of artist.
“Anyone can make art and it can be fulfilling in so many different ways, so I just hope that my store can be a catalyst for that,” she said.
While preparations for the opening of Sparrow Arts have taken over many hours of Svennigsen’s life in the past few months, art continues to be an integral part of her days. A member of the Brandon Artists’ Guild, she currently exhibits some of her artwork in their gallery. And a shop such as Sparrow Arts demands an experienced artist managing it.
“I’m not an expert in every aspect of art, but I am a knowledgeable person in terms of being able to help people with products they want to find or if they have any questions,” she said. She hopes to establish herself as a point-person for the local community, including everyone from aspiring students to artists with several degrees.
With the passing of its grand opening and the shop now up and running, Svenningson can focus on future plans regarding community events and adjusting to local feedback. In addition to hosting more gallery events featuring local artists, she hopes to organize and extend public events to a broad range of Middlebury residents, possibly even including Middlebury College’s own art club.
“If they wanted to host one of their events here I would totally be into that,” she said. “I’m really here to foster community.”
Sparrow Arts will be open Wednesday through Sunday weekly — Wednesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. — and will continue to expand their calendar for their rotating gallery with different types of exhibitions as well as community events. As the shop evolves, Svenningsen’s initial seed planted at the height of Covid-19 will continue to expand, though her motivations stay the same.
“I think Covid-19 obviously has been a very difficult time, but it has given way for people to just explore what really matters to them in life,” she said.
Emily Hogan ’24 is a layout editor.
She is undeclared but is considering majoring in Environmental Studies with a minor in math. She is very passionate about sustainability and enjoys learning how to be more environmentally conscious.
Hogan is from Denver, Colorado, and enjoys being outdoors skiing, hiking, and running. In addition to involvement in the Campus, she is a canoe guide for the Middlebury Mountain Club and enjoys running with MiddRuns. She also loves reading and listening to music.