Retailer Spotlight,  Community

Gallery Walk: Arlene’s Classes & Art Shows, a Match Made in Heaven

Welcome back to the Art Dog Gallery Walk. Last time we explored Carter Sexton’s creative use of space in sunny Southern California; this week we’ll be learning more about the give-and-take relationship between an in-store gallery and classes at Arlene’s Artist Materials. Arlene’s started out as a ceramic studio in 1960; when they outgrew their original store, they moved to a larger location conveniently located near major highways where they could provide the community with custom framing, monthly art exhibits, various art classes and of course high-quality art supplies.

A recent show at Arlene’s featuring staff artwork.

Arlene’s puts an emphasis on community, and their gallery is a strong indicator that they aren’t just talking the talk. Their gallery is a part of the shop, located on the main level of the store, right behind the front counter in the space that was formerly Arlene’s office. It is somewhat of a “nook,” with three walls partitioning off the space. A recent show featured a collage and sculptural installation from local artist Carla Dortic. “We started the gallery in 2017 to showcase the local art scene of our community,” special events coordinator and gallery director Andrew Ochal explains. “Our first show was an instructor show that featured artwork of all the teachers at our store. Then we exhibited artists who have national recognition, as well as artists who live in our community. Once a year we feature art by all our talented employees.”

Monthly Shows, With Openings

Arlene’s puts on a monthly show with an artist’s reception the first Thursday of every month. “We have a table set up with food, wine, beverages, we do social media, press releases and newsletters. Primarily the artist installs, and I play the support role,” Andrew says. The gallery supports group shows as well as solo shows.

Classes Fuel The Gallery, The Gallery Inspires Classes

The gallery serves as a positive reinforcement for students enrolled in classes at Arlene’s. Arlene’s offers classes every month, covering topics such as Printing on Fabric, Make Your Own Sketchbook, Urban Landscape in Watercolor, Intro to Handbuilding Air Dry Clay, Drawing from Nature, Oil Painting and Painting Water with Pastels. Every so often they put on an instructor show; recently they did a juried student show that was a great success. “We invite anyone who has taken a class with us to submit up to five pieces of artwork. The instructors are the jurors, Arlene (yes, the original Arlene!) was a juror as well.”

Showcasing people who have all different levels of experience is also a key focus for Arlene’s gallery, encouraging visitors to try new things and learn more. “We try to get as many people interested involved in the local art scene as possible, and we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. That is one of the reasons we started the classes: people were apprehensive about trying new things, a bit afraid to be creative. We wanted to create a safe space for people to try things out. A lot of the people who had taken classes never actually had a show before! The classes are smaller so they get a lot of one on one time with the instructors.

Elizabeth Zunon, Shoelaces, 36″ X 36″, oil paint on canvas

Just as the workshops and classes feed into the gallery space, the gallery space feeds into the classes. Inspired customers may think to themselves, “I want to try that”. If you are interested in painting in acrylics, you can see someone who can do it really well. “Being able to experience artwork in person is key. You can look all day long online, but having a physical interaction with a piece of art, coming into that space has a completely different impact,” Andrew explains. Creative people interested in art supplies typically want to see how things work, how they are made. “Maybe they continue on to take a class, maybe bring something home to try it out for the first time.” There is a strong connection between being inspired by the art that they see and shopping for art supplies.

Exhibits Can Double as Fundraisers

Last year, Arlene’s held a 3×3 fundraiser; each 3” x 3” piece sold for $10.00 and 100% of the proceeds benefited the Albany Center Galleries. Albany Center Galleries was one of the first galleries to open in Albany back in 1977, founded by Leslie Urbach who had relocated from Hollywood, CA. He had a big personality and made the gallery a success. “We were one of the first small independent art supply stores to open in the area; we were very supportive of the gallery and still are.” The fundraiser has now become an annual event due to its popularity. Tying a show to a cause can encourage all kinds of creative people to come forward, with participation from local community members, artists and schools.

Key Benefits of Arlene’s Gallery

  • Works in tandem with classes. The gallery is an opportunity to develop the abilities and portfolios of students enrolled in classes at your store. The more artists in your community, the more people who need art supplies! Good for business and for the local art scene.
  • Inspires visitors to create their own art. This means increased enrollment if you are offering classes!
  • Creates fundraising opportunities that bring in new communities. Connecting with a local non-profit or cause builds relationships in the community and increases the visibility of your business.

Next stop on our Gallery Walk? A shop in the heart of Bloomington, Indiana, a community staple that boasts two shop cats and unique partnership with a vendor which has resulted in an annual show that keeps customers creating all year. I-84, here we come!

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