Page 19 - June 2017
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members of the artists’ gallery photo by heather Kadar joni pevarnik, at right.
flagStaff’S epicentric coop gallery celebrateS 25 year anniverSary
by jen turrell
Some might assume artists running an art gallery would be akin to inmates running the asylum. The Artists’ Gallery proves not only can it be done, it can be done successfully. Now known as the best little coop gallery this side of Santa Fe, this was the dream of a small group of area artists; a dream alive today, 25 years later. Cooperation and community may be at the heart of so much of the decentralized, counter-culture and anti-authoritarian senti- ment that arises so naturally in Flagstaff, and there are reasons artists who live here aren’t living in LA, SF, Miami, or NYC or another cut-throat metropolitan setting.
Ceramic artist Joni Pevarnik, a member from the very start, is not only an accomplished master of her craft, but also a beloved wisecracker and impromptu British monarch imper- sonator. Now director, she shares her remembrances of that fateful day in the summer of ‘92 when a motley crew of local artists sat ‘round the floor of a defunct dress shop looking at the “terribly pink walls,” and dreamed up the possibilities.
“Lindy Flynn had an idea that artists could run a gallery,” Ms. Pevarnik says. “She was a jeweler, and she found the space, and said, ‘Hey, why don’t we make this into a gallery?’ And we all sat on the floor in this pink room, and I think there were about 35 people at the meet- ing. Lindy directed it for the first few years, very creative woman. And then Pam Raskob, who was really terrific, took it on after Lindy moved out of state, and the gallery thrived for another 17 years after that. When Pam left, I took on the job in 2010.”
Part of the impetus, she says, was that there was nothing like it in downtown at the time; there were all bars and just a few retail spaces, the linchpin of culture being McGaugh’s Book- store. “It was pretty rough and tumble back then.” But the group agreed to share the rent, work shifts to man the gallery, and give a small percentage of sales back to the cooperative to keep everything rolling. From that first meeting, Ms. Pevarnik, Karen Myers, and Linda Russell remain the trio of original members.
Says Ms. Russell, whose aspen paintings are a local favorite: “I’m inspired by all these artists who come through here; and I truly enjoy being a part of it.”
Adds Ms. Pevarnik: “It’s about community. We’ve had over 500 artists come through the gallery in the last 25 years, and every one of them have left their mark.”
The gallery is truly a hub of the local scene, spinning off some of Flagstaff’s lasting tradi- tions, including First Friday ArtWalk and Art in the Park.
While Ms. Pevarnik recalls Patti Ortiz — now at the ‘Tis Gallery in Prescott — with the idea for ArtWalk, Ms. Ortiz credits Darcy Falk with the vision, originally an event that had just three galleries participating and the ladies “running around like little rascals” passing out fly- ers. Now the ArtWalk spans all of downtown Flagstaff, and many retail shops show support for the arts each month. Live bands play on the square and thousands of visitors are able to access the full variety of original art and the flow of the area’s creative energy each month, as galleries, studios, and pop up spaces open for one night each month.
Says Ms. Ortiz of her time with the gallery: “I found lasting friendships there, even though many of us are now separated by miles.”
Says Stu Wolf, a longtime member who now produces Art in the Park Independence and Labor Day Weekends: “Many of the gallery artists participate in the show and often artists doing Art in the Park become gallery members. The idea for both are based on the same suc- cessful concept: artists joining together, competing on a level playing field, and interacting directly with the public with no middle men.”
The Artists’ Gallery became the launch pad for several area artists who have gone on to start their own galleries. “When the gallery began, downtown was a very different place. We now have many thriving galleries in Flagstaff. Carolyn Young, who owns West of the Moon, was a member in the beginning. George Averbeck, who now owns both Arizona Handmade which he runs with his wife Holly Gramm, and Fire on The Mountain, was a member in the beginning.”
Says Ms. Young, who began as a jewelry and beadworker at the gallery: “The Artists’ Gallery has a lot of very fine, local artists who have been loyal to the co-op gallery for years. There’s some very great work in there. I loved the two years that I was a member of this gallery; I learned much and met a lot of good people and TAG really helped me transition into owning my own art gallery that just turned 17.”
Says Mr. Averbeck, whose glass art is now found throughout the Southwest: “Of course, there’s always been a little drama with so many artists in one place, but there are fine people there, and being there, working the floor, really helped me develop as an artist.”
The Artists’ Gallery is known for featuring an eclectic collection of artists and artwork span- ning the gamut from jewelry and glass, to pottery and painting, to photography and wood.
“People who love art in the community have supported us and allowed us to keep this great experiment going. The secret of our success is the community of artists who have built the gallery over the years,” Ms. Pevarnik imparts, brushing off her role as ‘simply paperwork.’ “The second part of our success is the amazing support from the patrons who have sup- ported us. Those who have invested in art have made the world a better place. It is bigger than commerce; it is all about supporting the human spirit and all that we can create.
“Art galleries like the Artists’ Gallery allow people in the community to thrive as artists. Our gallery is unusual because the artist is a member and an owner of the gallery. This allows the artist to display the most creative work they are currently making. Because they are so personally invested in the gallery, they tend to put their best work out there. Our artists also know they will have the opportunity to meet the client when they come into the gallery and let them know why they create and what inspires them.”
The gallery is a favorite locals and for those who pass through Flagstaff on the way to Grand Canyon or the area’s other natural wonders, as it’s just a quick jaunt off Route 66 to 17 North San Francisco Street, just south of the famed Hotel Monte Vista in beautiful downtown Flagstaff.
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