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Art galleries face the future

Bricks and mortar or cyberspace, that is the question. Given the rapid openings and closings of physical art galleries in the area and the increasing importance of commerce on the Internet, we wondered if there might be a trend toward selling art on the Web.

Lu Mellado believes so. A 48-year-old Nevada City artist who volunteers his time as web master for Nevada County Arts Council on one hand and works part time at Mowen Solinsky Gallery on Broad Street, Nevada City, on the other, Mellado recently launched ARTcommons Online Gallery and is now representing 22 artists, affordably.

Mellado can tick off the names of galleries that have closed their doors in the area: Mostly Clay, Gallery II, Flying Hare, Exposure Gallery, The Flying Hare, the Truckee Gallery and Mill St. Gallery, Julie Baker Fine Arts and A Loving Home Gallery: Art to Lift Spirits and Smiles (a father and young daughter enterprise in Nevada City). The last two, for sure, have gone online.



After closing her downtown Nevada City contemporary art gallery last MelladoMay, Julie Baker of Julie Baker Fine Arts says her analysis showed something striking: “In my first year of business people wandered in and became repeat customers, the lifeblood of my business. In the full second year I did not meet another person who became a good repeat customer.” Naming the economic downturn and increasing price of gas, Baker also felt she had “maxed out” her audience here …

She then started putting more energy into her Web site, which she calls “integral to my business for the past seven years.” The power of the Web has worked for her. She sells pieces anywhere from $500 to $24,000 across the U.S. and Europe, with the help of e-mails that say, “Look at this excellent new piece from so-and-so.”




Is the local trade dead for Julie Baker? Hardly. Not only does she have regular customers coming to her house by appointment, she also does quarterly gatherings there for as many as 300 people.

“Absolutely, bricks and mortar and the Web feed each other; their complementary” says Lily Vigil who has successfully run Lilly Vigil Native American Gallery on Broad Street for 24 years. She just launched her own Web site – which, by the way doesn’t actually sell art but rather show it – but is more cautious about jumping completely on any cyberspace band wagon.

She says, “Buying art is an emotional thing, and it makes a difference to actually see it. A lot comes across that you don’t see on the Internet. If you aren’t familiar with an artist’s work, it’s more difficult on a Web site.”

Nevertheless, she says she knows people who have started online galleries and reads in art magazines that the idea is taking off.

“I do not think it’s a bad idea, and I think it will take off,” she said. “I’d be delighted if someone bought pieces from me online.” Still, Vigil says she loves the hands on, the hanging of artists’ works and the excitement of people walking into the gallery, so that remains her focus.

Vigil travels a lot on buying trips. She says she see the older (over 10 years old) bricks and mortar galleries doing well, especially if they are in cities known for their art.

“Grass Valley and Nevada City are not really art destinations. They aren’t known for that, and it’s tough to make it in a place that’s not known,” especially one that’s pretty small and doesn’t have 20 galleries in an area, she added. “We have a lot of creative people here, but selling and creating art are two different things.”

John Mowen, one of the owners of Mowen Solinsky Gallery on Broad Street in Nevada City, says, “Regarding online galleries, we are doing more and more with our Web site and online sales. This is a trend that is growing steadily.

“However, brick and mortar galleries are particularly important as well.” Echoing Vigil, he said, “Being in the physical presence of art, one feels the actual objects, seeing the colors and textures.”

Mowen, an artist himself, feels that art in general and real galleries in particular are important to a community.

“It is still largely held that art is a lux.ury,” he says, “and that we should move away from that in difficult economic times. We would be well served to reconsider this idea at every level. Creativity and beauty may indeed be an antidote or the best medicine for an ailing community; and galleries are the humble museums, vital to the quality of life in a healthy community. (See more about the Mowen Solinsky Gallery nearby.)


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