Arts and Entertainment

Art and the Economy: A gallery's hope for survival

Founding member Susan VanderWey and owner Jessica Osborn in A is for Artists Gallery, an artist alliance they began in late 2007. The gallery closed after the 2009 holidays, and is now looking for a new home. - Jennifer Morris/Staff Photo
Founding member Susan VanderWey and owner Jessica Osborn in A is for Artists Gallery, an artist alliance they began in late 2007. The gallery closed after the 2009 holidays, and is now looking for a new home.
— image credit: Jennifer Morris/Staff Photo

They say timing is everything. In the case of A is for Artists Gallery, timing didn't work out so well.

"The first 10 months were fabulous," said Jessica Osborn, co-owner of the gallery she and her husband opened two years ago. But in November 2008, just before the clattering of Wall Street's crash, things "just fell apart."

Facing monthly rent, and — much more distressing — a drastic decline in consumer spending, Osborn threw up a white flag.

"There's nothing else I can do," she told her landlord at the time. The decision was made: the gallery would close Dec. 4.

Only it didn't.

A is for "Angel"

Most patrons downshifted their purchases, buying a $1.50 print card instead of the more expensive original. It meant revenue too low to pay the overhead, and eventually the realization the gallery would have to find a new home. But one customer shook her head.

"She said 'Oh no, that can't happen,'" recalled Susan VanderWey, one of the gallery's founding members. "We were absolutely thrilled."

An A is for Artists Gallery customer, whom gallery members would not name, referring to her only as "our angel" for this story, funded the gallery through the holiday season, paying the $2,500 rent so it could remain open through the end of 2009. The woman told Osborn her grandfather made his living during the Depression Era as an artist; her funding the gallery would be a coming full circle of sorts.

It was a rescue much unexpected for the gallery, which has earned nods from national publications and was self-sufficient in its upstart, grossing "a very healthy" amount before the economy soured, Osborn said.

Now, its doors closed and walls empty, A is for Artists Gallery will exist only in the virtual world until a new home can be found.

Little Bowls

Osborn and her artist husband, Ian Turner, opened the gallery to provide unique financial options for artists. Artists could choose to split product sales evenly with the gallery, or they could opt to staff the store and keep 80 percent of the money their products made.

"I felt the need to make a place for everyone to work for themselves," Osborn said, adding that art prices rose due to the high revenue percentages collected by galleries. "It became for the wealthy. I wanted art to be for everyone."

And the place took off: With artists as staff, VanderWey said, the gallery swirled with an energy that helped to sell. And artists — there were 15 represented at the time of this interview — benefitted from an audience with consumers, enabling them to infuse buying tastes with whatever their passions would create.

That, in itself, is the crux, Osborn explained. A glass artist who indulges in large, colorful creations, she said there is often a gap between what an artist wants to make and what sells best. In her case: "Little bowls," she said. Not her favorite to make, the pieces fly off shelves.

But as the economy waned and tourists and locals alike shut their pocketbooks, not even creating to the whims of current tastes could keep the gallery open.

And when creativity is stunned by reality, there is a noticed effect.Oh, what if I did this?'"

A is for Artists isn't alone. Galleries have closed around Kitsap and in Seattle, and sales are down nationwide. Even jewelry, pieces with gold that have intrinsic value, aren't recession-proof, Osborn said.

Still, there are plenty of well-wishers, including the gallery's "angel," hoping to see it resurface. Until an affordable place is found, artwork can be purchased at www.AisforArtists.com, or by phone.

Osborn, who likely won't recover the personal funds she put into the gallery, said she remains hopeful the gallery can find a new home and become a place for community once again.

"Artists are problem-solvers," she said. "The create something new with nothing."

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