Vancouver art galleries adjust

Tough economy has forced some Vancouver spaces to close doors, but others find ways to keep vision alive

By Mary Ann Albright, Columbian Staff Reporter

Published:

 

Propelled by the economic downturn, the revolving door continues to spin on Vancouver’s visual arts scene.

If you go

• What: First Friday Art Walk.

• When: 5 to 9 p.m. today, though hours may vary somewhat by location.

• Where: Various galleries and businesses throughout downtown Vancouver and Uptown Village.

• Cost: Free.

• Information: Contact participating locations or visit here.

Some galleries have closed or relocated in recent months, while others have cropped up, and many owners and managers have found it necessary to have another source of income besides art sales in these tough times.

“It’s kind of like this bubble that burst,” said Tyler Morgan, co-owner of the former Lincoln’s Gallery, which recently closed in downtown Vancouver.

Sixth Street Gallery also shut its doors after dwindling sales, class registrations and donations made it impossible for co-op members to afford the space at 105 W. Sixth St. that they’d occupied for the past five years. But rather than disband, members of Mosaic Arts Alliance, the gallery’s nonprofit parent organization, started hunting for more affordable space.

Some First Friday venues

Angst Gallery: 1015 Main St., http://www.angstg..., 360-253-1742.

Art on the Boulevard: 210 W. Evergreen Blvd. Suite 300, http://www.artont..., 360-750-4499.

Aurora Gallery: 1004 Main St., http://www.aurora..., 360-696-0449.

Brickhouse Bar & Grill: 109 W. 15th St., http://vancouverb..., 360-695-3686.

Charlies Bistro: 1220 Main St. Suite 100, http://www.charli..., 360-693-9998.

Comfort Interiors: 901 Main St., http://www.comfor..., 360-254-2800.

Erik Runyan Jewelers: 900 Washington St. Suite 150, http://www.runyan..., 360-699-1917.

Firehouse Glass: 518 Main St., http://www.fireho..., 360-695-2660.

Hidden Gallery (inside Bella’s Courtyard in the Academy building): 400 E. Evergreen Blvd. Suite 213, 206-794-2397.

Niche Wine & Art: 1013 Main St., http://www.lekker..., 360-980-8352.

Nies Insurance: 900 Washington St. Suite 101, http://www.niesin..., 360-254-2220.

North Bank Artists Gallery: 1005 Main St., http://www.northb..., 360-693-1840.

Raging Sage Coffee Co.: 1104 Main St. Suite 111, 360-567-0121.

Rand Jeweler: 112 E. Evergreen Blvd., http://www.randje..., 360-314-2474.

Riverview Community Bank: 900 Washington St. Suite 100, http://www.riverv..., 360-693-7086.

Stray Gallery: 1706 W. Columbia St., http://www.strayg..., 360-326-4141.

Tryckpress Galleri: 1001 Main St. Suite B, http://tryckpress..., 971-237-1397.

They found a good fit at 111 W. Ninth St., closer to the hub of galleries on Main Street between 10th and 11th streets. The new space will be called Gallery 360, and members hope to have it open later this month or early next.

The Gallery 360 space is approximately 2,000 square feet — about the same size as Sixth Street Gallery was — but the rent is about one-third less. The space required some work, so gallery members and even some nonmembers are pitching in with painting, cleaning and putting in a wheelchair-accessible bathroom.

“We’re all just in there getting our hands dirty,” said Jamie Lutz Carroll, vice president of Mosaic.

Doing the work themselves not only saves money, it also helps gallery members feel connected to their new home.

“It’s definitely going to be our space,” said Sam MacKenzie, Mosaic president.

With its hardwood floors and exposed brick walls, the new space reminds Carroll and MacKenzie of Sixth Street Gallery. One major difference, though, is that the studio and classroom space is in the front of Gallery 360, whereas it was tucked away in the back at Sixth Street.

Co-op leaders hope that change helps draw the community into the gallery.

“I view our education as community outreach, so having that aspect be more visible I think is going to increase that back and forth with the community,” Carroll said.

Mosaic isn’t the only arts group to relocate recently. The Neo-Romantics Artist Collective has moved its space, Stray Gallery, from 26th and Esther streets to 1706 W. Columbia St.

The reason for Stray Gallery’s move was different than Mosaic’s, though. Stray is an in-home gallery hosted by poet Nicole Sayer. When Sayer moved this summer, so did Stray.

Being in a less residential area has been good for Stray, said Neo-Romantics Artist Collective member Sara Ahern-Sawyer. The gallery now has the benefit of being part of the Uptown Village business community.

Foot traffic doesn’t always mean sales

Increased foot traffic is good, but it did not equal financial success for several galleries that recently closed. Four galleries started by six friends sprung up in the past year and a half in downtown Vancouver, and now only one remains.

In the summer of 2009, Brian Ripp opened Rainy Day Gallery at Ninth and Main streets. His friends, Lincoln’s Beard band mates Morgan, Kristopher Chrisopulos and Dwayne Spence, opened Lincoln’s Gallery across the hall soon after.

Above Rosemary Cafe on 10th and Main streets, friends Olin Unterwegner and Ossie Bladine opened Guerrilla Gallery and Tryckpress Galleri, respectively, this past spring.

Now only Tryckpress, which shares space with the alternative biweekly Vancouver Voice, is left.

The exodus began even earlier than this summer. The former artists nonprofit co-op Gallery 21 closed in April 2009 after 21 years due to dwindling membership and sales.

Photography studio and one-time First Friday participant Aevum Images gave up its space at the Academy in August 2009. With the economic downturn, it made more sense to move the studio back home, said owner Kate Singh.

Ripp also found the costs of having a dedicated space to be too high. He sold just enough art at Rainy Day to pay rent, not make a profit.

“It was basically a draw for me,” he said. “It just wasn’t worth it.”

Now Ripp is concentrating on showing at other galleries both locally and regionally. He has had work at Angst Gallery in downtown Vancouver and is doing a show at Bherd Studios in Seattle this month. He also has his online clothing company, Divergent Clothing, to focus on.

Lincoln’s Gallery closed at the same time as Rainy Day. Its owners had been juggling their day jobs, family lives and band, making it difficult to keep regular gallery hours.

“We have a lot on our plates, and this seemed like the one thing that could be cut out,” said Morgan, a history teacher at Camas High School.

Rainy Day, Lincoln’s and Guerrilla galleries drew strong crowds at First Friday Art Walks, but that didn’t equate to sales.

Unterwegner even had weekly late-night open houses at Guerrilla Gallery, and though an average of 30 or 40 people came, they didn’t have the discretionary income to spend on art.

Diverse revenue streams

Unterwegner plans to save up and then try again, this time opening a space that’s both a gallery and a bar.

“That’s the only way I can think of to make it work,” he said.

That’s the approach Angst owner Leah Jackson is taking with her new space, Niche Wine & Art.

Angst used to be next door to Gallery 21. Jackson took over the space and transformed it into Niche, adding French doors to connect her new business to Angst. Niche launched in late September and celebrated its grand opening on Oct. 23.

She doesn’t sell enough at Angst to cover the bills, so Jackson expects the majority of Niche’s income to come from food and drink sales, not art. But that doesn’t mean the gallery side isn’t a priority.

“It’s more a labor of love,” she said.

While Niche has nibbles and libations to help subsidize the business, other downtown galleries find different ways to supplement art sales.

“You can’t expect to sell enough art every day to pay your rent. It just doesn’t work in Vancouver,” said Elizabeth Steinbaugh, owner of downtown Vancouver’s Aurora Gallery, also a framing shop. “You have to have something else going on.”

For North Bank Artists Gallery, a co-op and nonprofit, renting out studio space helps keep things afloat. Currently, all but one of the gallery’s studio rental spaces are taken. That rent, which ranges from $75 to $200 a month, helps cover North Bank’s costs, as do membership dues.

Rand Jeweler, another First Friday participant, is primarily a jewelry shop and does not even take a commission from the few local artists it shows. Owner Rand Schiltz sees having the art on his shop’s walls as a mutually beneficial arrangement. It’s a way to support his artist friends and increase the visual appeal of his store. Being part of First Friday also allows him to show his hand-crafted jewelry to more of the community.

Operating under a similar philosophy that art enhances businesses, Drew Parsons and Ron Jones have started a community art program. They rotate work by about 180 local artists through more than a dozen businesses throughout Clark County. In downtown Vancouver, participating businesses include Raging Sage Coffee Co., Comfort Interiors and Charlies Bistro. Parsons also curates Brickhouse Bar & Grill and Hidden Gallery inside Bella’s Courtyard in the Academy.

Since galleries can be intimidating, showing art in restaurants and small businesses makes it more accessible, according to Jones.

“It’s bringing the art to the people,” he said.

Nonprofit backing

Connecting people to art is also central to North Bank Artists Gallery’s mission. Since the gallery isn’t reliant upon sales, its focus can be on education and allowing artists to create without feeling hamstrung by commercial prospects.

“It was founded for artists to really be able to spread their creative wings and not have to worry about selling,” said Kathi Rick, gallery manager.

Art on the Boulevard is another gallery with the benefit of a nonprofit parent organization. Art on the Boulevard is a Friends of the Arts project. The gallery is self-sustaining, though Friends of the Arts covers the salary of its one paid employee.

Though it’s not a panacea, as Mosaic and members of the former Gallery 21 can attest, the nonprofit route is a direction The Space Artists Collective in Uptown Village is looking to go. The Space, which is located behind One World Merchants, celebrated its grand opening last May and has since undergone significant membership turnover; only one founding member remains.

The Space is on hiatus while new leaders work on applying for nonprofit designation. They plan to change the name to The Space for Community Arts.

A desire to focus more on community outreach makes the nonprofit model a good match for The Space’s goals, said member Alex Noble.

“That’s what we all wanted in the beginning, to find a place for the community to be creative,” she said.

Mary Ann Albright: maryann.albright@columbian.com, 360-735-4507.