Art Works celebrates 5 years with block party |

Art Works celebrates 5 years with block party

Michael Larson, member of Art Works Gallery, helps to hang already finished blocks for the co-op's "Block Party" celebration for its fifth anniversary. The public is welcome to purchase a blank wooden block to transform in to their own work of art.
Cover photo and above submitted by David Wong |

Five years ago, artist Don Augstein was walking through Nevada City with his wife when he noticed an art gallery, tucked away from the street in a parking lot. Housed in an outbuilding of a former furniture store, what the drafty room lacked in heat, it made up for in open space to display artwork.

The Grass Valley wood and metal artist was immediately drawn to the idea. He asked to include his work alongside that of Gail Lipson, Linda Kaneko, Jerry Murphy and Reneé Sprattling.

The idea of an in-town gallery space was appealing to Augstein, who said he struggled to get his artwork out to the public. After a temporary lease on the outbuilding ran out a few months later, the group decided to find a more permanent home, said Augstein.

A lease was secured for a building on Mill Street in downtown Grass Valley. Within four months, Art Works Co-op Gallery was officially formed.

On June 1, Art Works launched a “Block Party” to celebrate its anniversary and give a gift back to the community. The gift back was through a unique fundraiser to support NEO — a nonprofit that “empowers youth to make healthy lifestyle choices by providing New Events and Opportunities in a safe environment that encourages youth success and contributes to a healthier community,” according to the organization’s website.

Thriving, not just surviving

“The scary part was signing a lease and not having enough money to pay the rent,” Augstein said of the group’s move to Grass Valley.

They placed an ad looking for additional artists to share the space and the co-op filled up quickly.

“It worked out really well,” Augstein said, adding that the result was beyond his expectations.

All artists who join the co-op are juried (with the exception of the founding members). The gallery now boasts a membership of 30 artists and an impressive organizational structure that keeps the co-op functioning as an efficient small business.

Early on, Art Works reached out to Old Town Gallery in Auburn — also a co-op— for advice and support. That proved a key move to setting up the successful venture, the Art Works board said Tuesday.

The gallery has policies, committees, coordinators and the board to keep every aspect of the business running smoothly, from work shifts, to sales and publicly. Artists work four to five shifts every two months, for about four hours at a time. Artist-members are not held to showing solely in the gallery either. Many members have shows around the community, region and even the nation.

Eileen Blodgett joined about four years ago and said she was really impressed by the organization that exists within the co-op.

For those artists struggling to market their work or gain the confidence to put themselves out in public, the gallery has become a beacon of strength.

Watercolor artist Dori Greenbaum said before joining, she felt very intimated to show her work. Her time in the co-op has been “a very validating experience,” for her, Greenbaum explained, adding that she now feels successful as an artist and has decided to pursue teaching.

“We try to make sure the people we bring in are successful,” Photographer and board member David Wong said of the co-op selection process.

Success has been one of the most rewarding things to see in the past five years, Augstein said.

“Several people have really gone through transitions (in their work), really opened up,” Augstein said of Art Works members. Those transitions have resulted in more confidence and success with their work, he added.

But has the gallery brought increased sales for individual artists? The board says yes.

“My family and friends could only buy so much of my work,” Wendy Krill, a natural science illustrator, said jokingly about her reason for joining the co-op.

Like everyone else on the board, she has found success in the sales of her work through Art Works.

Augstein, who struggled to get his work out beyond his home-based studio before founding the co-op, has perhaps the most successful sales story to date. Within 45 minutes of opening the doors to Art Works five years ago, a woman walked in and purchased $4,000 worth of his woodworking and metal designs.

While he hasn’t repeated success on that level since, sales have been good. In fact, sales have increased year over year, with this past year being the strongest to date. The downtown location certainly brings in locals, but it also attracts tourists visiting from out of the area. Their customer base is nearly half and half locals to out-of-town clientele.

On the block

Since Art Works Gallery opened, it has made it part of the co-op’s mission to support local nonprofits. All the artists have donated works to various causes for auction items and the like, but the gallery itself hosts shows and benefits designed specifically to benefit local organizations such as the Neighborhood Center for the Arts, Nevada Union High School and more. To celebrate their anniversary, Art Works is giving a gift to NEO through the “Block Party.”

Member Michael Larson brought the idea to the co-op. Wooden blocks of varying shapes and sizes are available for a suggested donation of $15 to $20. The community is encouraged to purchase a block then add their own creative touch to it —whether with paint, mosaic, metal, photos, collage or any other medium they chose.

The blocks will then get put on display in a collage format in the window of Art Works Gallery. Each individual block will be available for purchase by the public. Blodgett said that 100 percent of the proceeds will go to benefit NEO. Any block that isn’t purchased will be returned to the person who originally created it.

The blocks will be available in the store, at a booth at the Thursday Night Markets — beginning June 18 — and at the Sierra Arts Festival at the Fairgrounds June 26-28. Larson has cut 150 blocks so far, but the goal is to have 300 completed by July 30, in time for Art Works’ anniversary party Aug. 8.

Art Works Gallery is located at 113 Mill St. in Grass Valley. For more information, call 530-477-1600 or go to

Features Editor Brett Bentley can be reached at or by calling 530-477-4219.

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