A perfect storm is what comes to mind for Fresh Gallery Executive Coordinator Farley Lewis when he describes the darkest times of the art gallery’s history. If it wasn’t for the passion of the artists who work there and the helping hand of the community, he says they wouldn’t be open for business today.
“We were homeless, we were losing members, pandemic – people just looked at it like it was hopeless,” says Lewis.
That was just seven months ago.
In March, Fresh Gallery artist Nancy Brown Dornan says building owner Nick Sibley of the previous location – at the southwest corner of Walnut Street and Campbell Avenue – decided to sell the property. Dornan and more than 20 other local and regional artists had to vacate after more than 10 years operating as a co-op art gallery. Since 2009, it was a committee-led organization, where member artists pay $50 a month and 25% of sales to the gallery. Each artist worked one day a month at the gallery. Now, they were left to find a new place to open shop. The task, artist Mike Myers says, wasn’t easy.
“The easy thing to say or do would have been to be like, ‘Oh well, it’s done. We are through. It’s over with,’” Myers says. “But instead we all got together in committees for the labor and design and created this spot.”
The new spot is at 401 Boonville Ave., just north of Park Central Square.
During the search, Dornan says the artists wanted to make sure it would be affordable and remain in the downtown arts district. She says they still wanted to be able to take part in First Friday Art Walk. But the gallery organizers faced a roughly $11,000 funding gap between money budgeted for the move and estimated expenses.
Even with odds against them – including a global pandemic – the artists say their tenacity and dedication to the arts pushed them to carry on.
“Art is important to the community,” says Myers.
Community is key
The search committee found another building owned by Sibley, and it’s nearly double in size from the old place. Lewis says it fit their needs but was designed for a music venue. Renovations were in order.
Myers and Lewis spent three to four days a week – hours at a time – for eight weeks working to make the space functional. Even in the midst of a pandemic, they got work done. People wore masks while doing construction all while trying to remain socially distanced.
“One thing that makes us successful is our friendship,” Lewis says. “If we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t be a strong gallery.”
With a more than $25,000 renovation price tag and a $14,000 budget, Lewis says the community and the resilience from the members of the gallery helped rescue it.
“We had people coming in doing stuff for free,” he says.
One of those individuals was Steve Wilson, the pastor at Dayspring Church and a friend of Lewis. He dedicated his time to help put the framing up for the walls.
“The art gallery is something really special,” says Wilson. “It’s just a place where so many different artists share their stuff. It’s got that unique family feel, which I think is great.”
Other items such as countertops, toilets and crown molding also were donated.
“This gallery is a labor of love, it truly is,” says Dornan.
Since finding a new home, Lewis says the artists have seen a 91% increase in sales in the month of September versus last year. Gallery sales totaled $3,710 last month, compared with $1,947 in September 2019.
“In the past three weeks I have sold five paintings,” says Lewis.
Dornan says with people staying indoors more often due to the pandemic, many want to upgrade their homes. That means finding new furnishings as well as art. As a result, they have seen people wanting original works.
Lewis says they plan to expand, too. Between workshops, trainings or holding social events, the opportunities are vast.
“These are things we are dreaming about, but we have already dreamed and this happened,” says Lewis. “So, we know dreams can come true.”
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