A nomadic tribe of wandering artists has found a new home, and this time they hope it’s for good. The Lodi Community Art Center celebrated the opening of its new Pine Street gallery last weekend with a string quintet, an open house and a cheerful ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The collective is both a group of art creators and a center where their works can be displayed. All pieces in the gallery are for sale, and the collective takes a 25-percent cut for operating expenses, hosting art classes and offering scholarships.
The group began in the late 1930s with a gallery in a house on Pine Street. Over they years, they have bounced from location to location due to increasing rent prices and a need for more space. Most recently they were housed in Lakewood Mall, across the hall from Rick’s New York Style Pizza.
“There was really not much foot traffic,” said Pam Bechill, the gallery manager. “The people coming in there were people waiting for their pizzas.”
Every month, the display is reworked in time for the First Friday Art Hop.
Gallery organizers hope the pep and zeal of Downtown will flow into the art center. As a non-profit, the group is always looking for new ways to support art in the community while working with limited funding.
“People need to be more excited about buying art,” Bechill said.
But ultimately, it’s not about the money. It’s about promoting the gallery to keep art education open to the current and future artists of Lodi.
Any artist in the Lodi area can become a member of the center. The cost is $35 for adults and $10 per students each year.
“Right now we’re a very diverse group,” said Bechill. “Oils, acrylics, pastels, you name it.”
A tour of the Lodi Community Art Center’s Pine Street galley won’t take you long, but the art you see will captivate you.
Signs in hand-lettered gold beckon guests in off the street. Glossy pine floors stretch out between matte white walls. Shining glass cabinet doors protect displays of handmade sterling silver jewelry, sparkling beaded bags and delicate glass tiles. Track lighting showcases framed oil paintings, pastels and stunning lumen and digital photography.
Along a low counter, fused glass designs are lit up from below. There are postcard sized photographs, and handmade scarves.
Take a few winding steps around counters to the back of the room and investigate the student art display, highlighting the best work of teenagers in Lodi and nearby. Then enter the working studio, where the mixed media artists meet on Thursdays and several gallery members teach regular classes.
There is no single genre of art held above the others here. There is no snobbery, only support of fellow creators.
But the space didn’t become this open and clean on its own. The new tenants were responsible for a grand makeover of the leased space. Dark gray carpets were torn out. Sheetrock was nailed in over black wall cabinets. And a whole wall was knocked out to open up the back of the gallery.
“Our membership was dying because people didn’t see the value in the other location,” said J.C. Strote, membership coordinator.
Now, at least three new artists are signing up to join the center each week.
There’s a magic that can happen when someone comes in for a single class, and Strote loves to watch it in motion. Maybe the student is learning watercolors or pastels; then, a year later, their art is hanging in the gallery.
“Others may never improve on that scale, but you don’t know what it does to improve your spirit,” said Strote.
Rich Allen, the president of the center, said this is the best spot they have had in years. The Downtown location will give the group a chance to reach more people and engage with unknown artists.
“Fine art is a tough sell in Lodi,” he said. “The population mix where art is successful tends to be college-educated.”
Lodi’s status as an agriculture town, with fewer college grads, means there simply aren’t as many people with a background or appreciation for fine art, he said.
“If they haven’t been exposed, how do they know to seek it out?” he said.
The answer: Make art affordable, approachable, and open to the community.
Judging by the crowd flowing steadily through the gallery during last week’s grand opening, artists aren’t the only ones willing to get connected.
Even those who have never picked up a paintbrush can support the group by volunteering.
Members are needed to staff the gallery, help organize the new show in time for each month’s First Friday Art Hop, and set up the annual art show at Woodbridge Winery in the spring.
“There’s a place for people who appreciate art and want to make sure it stays around,” said Allen.