By Tanner Yea—
Seeking refuge from corporate homogeny and big box stores, many Americans have turned to mom-and-pop shops or joined the do-it-yourself movement. This is true not only with clothes, music and restaurants, but art as well. Cooperative art galleries are now starting to become more commonplace, and there are a few in Pensacola that have been here since the beginning.
Cooperative art galleries, or co-op galleries, are art galleries that are formed by a collective group of artists who work together to have a space to display and sell their art – each operating as basically their own business.
“As a co-op gallery, we have 56 independent entrepreneurs in the gallery. They create their own work and determine their own prices,” said Jim Sweida. Sweida is the President of Blue Morning Gallery, a co-op gallery that first opened in 1997.
Blue Morning Gallery, located at 41 South Palafox Place, was originally formed by a group of 32 founding members who were seeking a venue to display their work. Sweida said they thought it would be a great idea to form a cooperative art gallery, and even to this day, four of those original members are still active.
Blue Morning features 3D artists like potters, woodworkers and glassworkers; 2D artists like painters, photographers and illustrators; as well as jewelers of all types. They also have monthly featured artist shows where they showcase three to four artists, and the gallery is also very active in local downtown events
Sweida said Blue Morning Gallery differs significantly from consignment galleries, which are the most common types of gallery. In consignment galleries, artists rent the gallery space from the owners so they can display their art. In exchange, the consignment gallery receives a percentage of the sale when the piece is sold.
“It’s not a museum; everyone has a job to do,” said Sweida. Blue Morning Gallery does not have any paid employees – instead, each member is involved in the day-to-day operation of the gallery. In order to achieve membership, you have to go through a jury process, and even then membership is limited. Currently, Blue Morning Gallery has 56 registered members.
In addition to Blue Morning Gallery, Quayside Gallery is also at the head of championing the co-op gallery movement in Pensacola. Located at 17 East Zarragozza Street, Quayside was originally founded in 1973 in order to foster and promote art in West Florida. Since then, the gallery has grown to over 200 artists and members.
Quayside hosts many of the artistic mediums that Blue Morning does, but they also display weavings and textiles. They consistently rotate the contents of their east and west galleries, allowing for new and exciting art to be viewed and potentially purchased.
Quayside has stayed in the same building for as long as they’ve been established, and the building itself is well over 140-years-old. Despite hurricane and structural damage, both artists and fans of the gallery have kept the building repaired through fundraisers and rallies.
Quayside Gallery has not only established itself as a place for new and burgeoning artists to display their works, but also as an active participant in promoting arts. They hold the annual First City Art Show and they even provide volunteers for the Fine Arts Exhibit at the Pensacola Interstate Fair.
Quayside Gallery also holds a fair number of workshops, bringing in famous local, regional and national artists. This includes artists like Douglas Walton, Joan Fullerton, Sterling Edwards and Pat Weaver. These workshops not only help local artists refine their techniques, but also get new artists interested in pursuing their talent.
Dick Johns, the head of advertising for Quayside, said they find it important to bring attention to the vibrant arts community of Pensacola. Quayside Gallery describes itself as “a place to turn aside from life’s storms and find peace and respite for the soul in art.” Johns said a lot of his attention comes from events such as Gallery Night.
Blue Morning Gallery regularly participates in Gallery Night as well. Sweida also said past events like Ciclovia and Foo Foo Fest have also helped bring attention to the gallery and to the local artists who display there.
One of the biggest advantages of the Pensacola art scene is the accessibility and affordability of it, said Sweida. “If you go to a place like New Orleans or Asheville, you can see comparable art to Pensacola art that is much more expensive. We want to let the general public know that they can afford original, local art without spending a fortune,” he said.
Sweida attests that Pensacola has some stand-out artists that could compete with large galleries in places like Los Angeles or New York, but Pensacola’s market lets them be better priced. That does not mean, however, that they are content to leave the art scene as-is.
“We’re not content to stand pat,” said Sweida. “We’re always looking ahead and trying to change with the situation.” Both Sweida and Johns said that the galleries are always looking for new ways to bring art to downtown, as well as the rest of the city. “We’re trying to stay ahead of the game and anticipate the future,” said Sweida.
Blue Morning Gallery is located at 41 South Palafox Place and is open 10 am – 5 pm Monday through Wednesday, 10 am – 8:30 pm Thursday through Saturday, and 12:30 pm – 4 pm Sundays. For more information, visit bluemorninggallery.com