In the Community
Once upon a time, I looked into at a dreary 700 square foot former razor sharpening shop and decided to transform it into a vibrant contemporary arts and craft gallery. But how does a former studio ceramics artist, with no retail experience and a greater lover for art and artists than business and numbers, become a successful gallery owner? For me, the answer has been passion, principles, partnerships and promotions.
My principles for guiding the growth of the gallery have included a focus on long-term results more than short-term gain and a commitment to challenge myself, my artists, my community and my neighboring retailers to “push the limits” and create new opportunities for success and the highest quality of passion and commitment through creating shows and events that are new, fun, somewhat risky and always surprising in their final unfolding. In creating shows and events, the limitations of my 700 square foot gallery led me, very early on, to reach out to others to partner with me to help my little gallery do big shows.
My gallery has spearheaded a variety of shows and promotions that involved the community including the Mayor’s invitational which is in its third year and has recently formed a board and a non-profit status. We are in our 10th year for our 100 Artists show which benefits a local non-profit group. With this show, we send objects through the mail “as is” and ask artists to create a piece of art. “Face the Public” invites 12 artists to paint part of a famous painting in the gallery and “face their public”. This is always a show that draws interested people who like to peek into the artists palette, see the process and meet the artists at the gallery while they watch them paint.
Also during the year we have shows that go “Beyond the gallery doors” and these occur every May. Every OTHER year we have our Door show. This is when we ask 20 artists to paint on actual doors and we place them in locations throughout our downtown. We produce a map with a walking tour that shows all the locations for the public to enjoy. A few years ago we produced the Details Show which showcased architectural details of downtown Salem by the photographer Kelly James. This show was especially delightful and entertaining because we didn’t tell people just where these details were located…we just gave hints. With brochures in hand the public took a closer look looking for the real details of our downtown. (and some are still looking!)
Each of these shows went beyond our gallery door into the community, engaging the public to walk downtown and see our spectacular historic district, the Capital Building, Willamette University and the Riverfront to name just a few of our treasures. But I must admit that my May show of 2007 was the show that best reflects the community presence of my gallery: “Different Spokes – People Powered Art for Change”.
A local architect came into my gallery to tell me he’d bought an iconic 1950’s motel in the center of Salem. He then offered me the opportunity to do whatever I wanted to with the empty shell, since he wouldn’t start construction of his new project for a few months. This was a chance of a lifetime.
Different Spokes took on a life of it’s own with the generous support of my artist friends. Sixteen sculptures were created and placed on a walking/bike route around the city core. Sculptures having to do with bikes, the environment and movement. I was asking Salem to hop on their bikes, bring along their families and enjoy the outdoors while taking in an artful tour. We kicked off this event with a gathering at the City Center Motel where children created their own “art bikes”, rode in a grand parade led by police on bicycles; we opened up rooms where college students took them over and were able to do an actual no holds barred art installation; where competitive bike wars took place, we had teams working with a mechanic and an artist to create amazing sculptural pieces; Cherriots hopped on board and passed out bus passes, the Salem Hospital gave us bike helmets to give away, PGE, Salem Electric and Kettle Foods showed off their alternative energy sources. We did it all.
Some people wonder what all of this really had to do with the work of the Mary Lou Zeek Gallery. I choose to “think beyond my gallery door” and can’t imagine not working this way. My work is to promote art and artists but also to connect with the community. My gallery is a way that I further my work and fulfill my love for the arts. The wider into the community my passion for arts and artists can reach, the happier I am. After all, I doubt I ever would have been offered a motel to transform by art if anyone thought I didn’t think outside the box and the walls of my gallery!