Working at the gallery has lead me into the heart of “community”, a word that I’ve always associated with surbanite moms getting together for Tupperware parties or the Friday Lenten fish fry at the church. But after only volunteering there 2 or 3 times, I’m seeing that what I am doing has nothing to do with “making sure nobody steals the art”. In the 6 hours I have spent in the gallery, I have gotten 2 visitors. In both cases, the art itself was not the focus of their visit. They would politely stop in front of each sketch and oil painting; from the outside looking very involved and deep in thought over the colors and strokes, but inside I knew they had alternative reasons for come in. I know this because I have done it hundreds of time. (Going into American Eagle or Tower Records, perusing, trying to convey my intense interest in the subjects to the employees, in order to, wordlessly, show them my perfect match to their company, then timidly asking if they need summer help.) So these 2 people did the same, and I gave them their space to enjoy and recollect their thoughts. Then they both hesitantly approached me where I sit reading my Vogue article about the new biography on Denys Finch Hatton, the real life man behind Robert Redford’s character in ‘Out of Africa’. (1900’s European settlers in Africa is slowing becoming my flavor of the week, replacing my love of Andy Warhol as I exhausted his life last month).
One man in his mid 60’s started talked to me about how he used to paint back in the day in high school and college, but has redirected his passion to the jazz guitar. He wanted to know if we would be interested in having his jazz band play at opens or events. I excitedly emailed the owner, proud of doing my part to make this from-the-ground-up volunteer-run gallery into a thriving cultural haven.
Last night a woman came in, did the art-love walkabout and approached me about putting out some flyers for a local performing arts center. I told her visitors would probably be very interested in seeing their performances and she left a stack. I thought, with a hint of frustration for the woman’s effort that we don’t get much foot traffic around here to fill their auditorium. But then I stepped back, thinking about the man from last week. The point of this place isn’t simply to look at art. It is using the art as a segway to bringing the artful talent of people together. This place is truly being built by people’s passion. Nobody is getting paid, but the desire to see this place grow is enough to keep them coming back. The first day I was there, Kathy, a dedicated volunteer, told me that they hoped that opening this gallery would bring life back into a struggling, rough neighborhood. That they felt that this could be accomplished through art. When I heard it, I gave her a warm smile, thinking that there is nothing more refreshing than an idealist. But I regret ever looking down on her naïvety. She was right. People are coming out to help build this place into a place to visit, to live.
To see how this gallery, and adjoining cafe, is making a small footprint to start: