Jacquie Pendergast stands next to a sculpture by new Art First co-op member Chuck Purse.

Art First looking forward as it moves into year two

It was little more than a year ago and Jackie Pendergast had an idea — assemble a group of local artists into a co-operative and open up Art First – Revelstoke’s first multi-artist, public gallery. She had the space lined up, but there was still the matter of getting everyone together, getting the paperwork done and setting up the store.

A year later and Art First is preparing for a celebration.

“I think we’ve done incredibly well considering the economic climate we’re existing,” she said. “We met our sales target for the first year and we’ve managed to stay open for a year, which I think is a huge achievement. It’s a cause for celebration.”

The celebration is taking place this Friday, Apr. 15 when Art First holds its first birthday party, with new works by old and new members on display.

It was never sure that the gallery would survive. Many businesses fail in their first year and trying out something new in a challenging market during a slow economy was certainly a risk, but it’s worked out.

“I think it’s allowed us to present to the broader world some amazing talent in an economically viable way,” said Andrew Stacey, a metal worker who is one of the orginal co-op members.

Art First opened on Apr. 3, 2010, with 16 members. Since then it’s lost some and gained some. Audrey Nanimahoo left due her well-publicized move to Malakwa; Sue Davies returned to New Zealand; David Rooney due to the time demands of The Revelstoke Current.

Still, the gallery has survived, even survived, and new members came on board. There’s painters Elvira Brunner and Stan Gee, wood carver Rod Aspeslet, photographer Dave Bennewith; stone carver Chuck Purse.and potter Sue McLeod of Nelson, B.C.

A few other things have changed — hours have been reduced, except for during peak summer tourist season, making it easier for the artists to fulfill their commitment to the gallery.

“I think as a group we’ve learned we need to have some commercial pieces, which for some artists has been a challenge,” said Pendergast.

The addition of McLeod is also a sign that the cooperative is now open to artists from outside Revelstoke. Depending on where they live, the gallery will take a higher commission and as long as the artist sells enough to cover the gallery’s expenses, they can remain as members.

For locals, more expensive items can now be bought on an instalment plan, with the goal of making it easier for people to buy the works in the gallery.

Before Art First opened there were few places for Revelstoke’s artists to show their work. There was the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre in Farwell and a few businesses showcase work but the opening of Art First has had a positive impact on the Revelstoke art community.

“It’s been good exposure for the artists and brought art to the community,” said Gwen Lips, who is on maternity leave from the co-op. “It has brought Revelstoke artists to the wide public – both local and to tourists.”

For Purse, a retired RCMP officer, this his first time displaying his work in public. Before, his stone carvings were kept at home so joining the gallery represents a brand new venture for him.

“I’m not an art person, this is all pretty new to me,” he said. “I’m excited about it.”

What’s most popular? Smaller items like pottery and jewellery go fastest, said Pendergast, but other people’s works appeal to buyers for different reasons.

“People are attracted to Chloe [Kim]’s work because its Korean and its very different. Equally people are attracted to more abstract work because its the style that they like,” Pendergast said. “People are attracted to Rachel Kelly’s work, partly because of the locality but also because its colourful and very bright. Nicola [McGarry]’s stylized landscapes really appeal to a large section of people.”

Having paid all the bills, met their sales targets and established a presence in the community, Pendergast considers the gallery a success, though there still seems to be a hint of nervousness heading into year two.

“We’ve gone through 12 months, we’ve gone through all the teething of setting up procedures and protocols,” she said. “Having done that for 12 months I’m optimistic we can keep going.”

She paused.

“Optmistic… Hopefully,” she said with a laugh.

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