Kill the question mark. North Bank Artists will stay put on Main Street for at least another year.
“Directions/Re-directions,” the latest art installation at North Bank, had been subtitled with uncertainty: “The future of North Bank Artists Gallery?” But guest curator Tom Relth recently deleted the worried question mark, converting the show into a confident statement.
“We’ll be able to stay within what we can afford for another year,” said board member and former executive director Maureen Montague. “It’s an incredible blessing.”
More than a year ago, Montague said, the nonprofit gallery and studio space got word that its rent would rise beyond affordability this summer. That sparked a long, difficult, mostly unfruitful hunt for another equally spacious and convenient home — with one big gallery plus many small rooms for working artists.
It couldn’t be found. The best North Bank could do, Montague said, was separate the gallery and the studios and relocate both elsewhere.
If You Go
• What: “Directions/Re-directions: The Future of North Bank Artists Gallery.”
• When: Opening reception: 5-9 p.m. today.
• Where: 1005 Main St.
• Cost: Free.
• On the Web:www.northbankartistsgallery.com
To Learn More
Download the “hotsheet” for the First Friday Art Walk in downtown Vancouver:
But landlord Dan Wyatt, owner of the Kiggins Theatre and much more real estate on the same Main Street block, eventually compromised on the rent increase, Montague said.
“It’s one arts organization helping another arts organization to live there on Main Street,” Montague said. “It gives us one more year to fundraise and develop a plan around sustainability. That’s a big success.”
The improving economy is a mixed bag for nonprofit, low-cash-flow outfits like art galleries, she said. “Rents are going up, and nonprofits are struggling to keep the doors open,” she said. “A lot of us are scrambling.”
For North Bank, she said, part of that scramble was transforming its hands-off board of directors into a more “working board” that handles some of the managerial tasks that used to belong to the executive director. Montague stepped down from that role last year and is now focused on fundraising for North Bank, she said.
“It’s a very organic leadership structure. Different members have different skill sets. I think we’ve got this board just right,” she said.
‘Pretty cool place’
Relth agreed that the improving economy is causing a lot of churning — with both positive and negative outcomes — for arts organizations. When he moved here in 2013, he said, the Great Recession was winding down, and there were only about a half-dozen venues involved in the downtown First Friday Art Walk. Today, there are 15 — not just galleries but wineries, restaurants, banks, the Hilton Vancouver Washington and other businesses.
What’s nice is how little competition exists between them, he added. Galleries are always referring visitors and opportunities to one another. April’s First Friday Art Walk drew so many people downtown, it was hard to get anywhere on the sidewalks, he said. Now add in a smattering of new, nicer-than-average restaurants where art lovers can refuel.
“Downtown is starting to be a pretty cool place,” he said. “There’s a growing arts and restaurants culture. I see a huge difference since 2013. That’s only three years.”
You’ve even got two Relth-curated shows happening simultaneously on Main Street. North Bank is hosting the retrospective show with the deleted question mark, “Directions/Re-directions,” featuring 34 artists who have been involved in some way — current members, ex-members and friends, Relth said. The worry they shared for too long is now a feeling of relief, he said, and the show will be “a nice, sincere celebration of 13 years of North Bank.”
Meanwhile, Relth has also become the fine arts adviser and curator of a monthly show at Boomerang, the charitable coffeehouse and resale shop just a few blocks south of North Bank.
Montague, who was North Bank’s executive director for three years, has moved on to a different nonprofit leadership position: executive director of Columbia Springs Environmental Education Center, a 100-acre nature preserve and fish hatchery in east Vancouver. (She used to be Maureen Andrade, but got married and changed her name last fall.)
“I love being outdoors. Coming to work in the woods every day is such a gift,” Montague said. When she applied for the job, she said, the person who got most excited and “really anxious” for her to get it was her 11-year-old son.
That’s because he’s a veteran of countless school field trips and family outings to Columbia Springs, she said. When they couldn’t even walk yet, Montague said, she was carrying both her kids around the grounds of Columbia Springs in her arms while hiking there. Clearly the indoctrination worked, and they fell in love with the place, she said.
Years later, Montague said, she got a call from outgoing executive director Sienna Miller asking if she’d be interested. Montague, an ardent environmentalist, figured that she could continue contributing to North Bank as a board member while stretching out in a new way for pay.
“I was ready for a new set of challenges,” she said. So far, she said, every day at Columbia Springs has been “like going back to college.”
It’s pretty fascinating, she said, to have visited here so many times across so many years as a hiker and parent — and now to be on the other side of the operation, making sure the place is ready to welcome and educate hikers and families.
“It’s so noble to teach kids about nature and life science,” she said. “These things are really important.”