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Whidbey art galleries foster a cooperative spirit
Jeanne Valdez laughs when she thinks back to the frantic days leading up to Garry Oak Gallery’s opening.
Valdez wanted to open a cooperative art gallery in Oak Harbor, and an opportunity arose when a visible space became vacant in historic downtown.
“We had a month to put it together,” Valdez said.
Over the next four chaotic weeks, Valdez, Margaret Livermore and Joan Brosnahan got the word out about the Oak Harbor gallery, assembled a group of artists and went to work getting the space ready for customers to view.
On Oct. 1, 2008, Gary Oak Gallery opened its doors on Pioneer Way with 27 artists.
The effort was collaboration at its best, embracing the spirit of what a cooperative art gallery is supposed to be about.
Nearly six years later, the gallery operates the same way with each of its artists equally invested in the gallery’s success.
Now numbering 22, Gary Oak Gallery artists share the rent, labor and their time to keep the gallery’s doors open.
Garry Oak is one of four cooperative galleries on Whidbey Island, joining Penn Cove Gallery in Coupeville, Artworks Gallery in Greenbank and the Whidbey Art Gallery in Langley.
“I love the gallery,” said Sue Swapp, a pastel artist from Anacortes who has been a member of Gary Oak Gallery for two years. “I found it to be a very classic looking gallery. It’s a good cooperative group. It works well.”
Swapp spends about two days a month tending the gallery in Oak Harbor. Each artist is assigned specific days to staff the gallery and often showcase their work with the commitment being reduced the larger the gallery’s membership.
“It gives me a reason to sit down and paint,” said Swapp, who’s also a member of cooperative galleries in Edmonds, Ocean Shores and La Conner.
To join a cooperative art gallery, a candidate must go through a juried process where they are interviewed by a committee and their art is judged by their peers. At Garry Oak, certain artistic qualifications must be met.
“It’s kind of like applying for a job,” Valdez said.
Once accepted, the advantages can be many. Chiefly, artists are able to sell their art without having to be onsite except for once or twice a month. Artists pay monthly dues and are charged a commission on sales, with proceeds going back into the gallery.
“In this economic time, cooperatives are the way to go,” said stained-glass artist Sandy Dubpernell, a founding member of the Garry Oak Gallery.
Other benefits are social events such as First Fridays at Garry Oak Gallery, where an artist is featured after normal business hours and refreshments are served. This happens the first Friday of each month.
Livermore is a founding member of both Garry Oak and Penn Cove galleries.
Penn Cove, founded in 1994, is the longest continuously operating co-op on Whidbey Island, but Whidbey Art Gallery is the oldest, dating back to 1992.
Livermore currently serves as the president of Garry Oak Gallery and treasurer of Penn Cove Gallery.
“Penn Cove does quite well,” said Livermore, one of 27 island artists there, along with another founding member, Lucinda Abrams. “As you grow over the years, your clientele builds up. When we first started, we were slow just like Garry Oak. Eventually, you get known, you get people to come back. That’s always the intent.”
She expects, in time, Garry Oak’s clientele will grow.
Valdez likes the collection of artists whose works are on display, from the photography of Kelly Kellogg and Beth Johns to the water colors of Randy Emmons.
“I have been very fortunate to have made an association with these artists,” Valdez said. “They are great people. Every one of them has an interesting story.”