Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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Artists join forces to show and sell their art

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The EastBank Art Gallery and Studio will open by the end of February. The artists in the gallery are selected through a juried process. The amount of wall space will limit the number of painters. (MPR Photo/Cara Hetland)
Many South Dakota artists feel the time is right for a gallery all their own. So, Sioux Falls is getting its first artist's cooperative. It will display and sell the art produced by the owners. The EastBank Art Gallery and Studio will open by the end of February. Similar cooperatives have been operating in other towns around the region for years. Members of those groups helped the Sioux Falls team of artists come up with their business plan.

Sioux Falls, S.D. — Sioux Falls has a new attitude when it comes to public art. Once, a naked statue of Michelangelo's David raised debate. Now sculptures line the main streets of downtown Sioux Falls and businesses are quick to purchase pieces for their lobbies and public spaces.

Artist Carol Wright is one of the organizing members of the cooperative gallery. She says they're looking for a certain type of artist to join the gallery. Wright says there are many well-known artists who call Sioux Falls home and want a place to show and sell their work. She says this won't be a gallery for hobby painters.

"I don't know if there's a place for every single person who wants to have their work on a wall available," says Wright. "But we're going to try to provide space for those serious people who have been around and who are really trying and working at it for a long period of time."

The artists in the gallery are selected through a juried process. The amount of wall space will limit the number of painters, but Carol Wright says there's still room for artists who create sculptures, pottery, and jewelry.

If selected the artist will pay $150 up front and then $50 a month. The gallery gets a 20 percent commission on all items sold.

The large gallery is in an old warehouse near Sioux Falls' railroad district, just on the edge of downtown. It's a working studio now, messy but interesting. There's a wild Jackson Pollack kind of floor with drizzled paint in all colors. The walls are a brilliant gold. Carol Wright is in charge of transforming the space into a gallery and studio.

"There will be an area in the front for jewelry and cards and fused glass and as we go towards the back, there is wall space and shelving for all kinds of pottery and other kinds of 3D materials. And we will keep our studio in the back," says Wright.

Artists can buy studio space and use the back to paint or spin a pottery wheel. There will be classes for the public in painting, drawing and pottery.

The cooperative studio/gallery is a model that's successful in other communities around the region. Watertown, Omaha and Fargo all have an artist's co-op. Omaha's gallery has been in the historic warehouse district known as the Old Market for about 30 years.

Gallery 4, Ltd. in Fargo was founded in 1975 and it's located downtown. Artists say location is important. Popular restaurants or businesses can offer a lot of foot traffic.

Artist William Damon says he sells enough of his watercolor and photography to pay the monthly dues at Gallery 4, but he hasn't quit his day job at a local hospital. His real passion remains trying to sell his art.

"I've tried art shows and some churches and other places in town will show your art for a period of time. It wasn't very profitable for me," says Damon. "So the first chance I had to become a member of the gallery, I took it," he says.

Carol Wright says cooperatives have a good reputation because of the long running galleries in the region. She says often times galleries open with good intentions of show-casing local artists. But too often, the more commercial pieces become popular and take over from local work. Wright says there are enough artists in Sioux Falls to make the co-op work.

"People think of cooperatives as a place where you can find a variety of really good and interesting things maybe not by well known artists, but by people who are quite qualified to be called artists and they're looking for things that have a good price," says Wright.

Artists will take turns running the gallery, so they'll be there to talk with customers.

Carol Wright says the gallery will also loan pieces of art, so people can see how it looks on their wall before they buy. She says the trick is marketing the gallery so people come in the door wanting to support local artists.

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