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Archive for Thursday, August 5, 1999

S PERMANENTLY CLOSED

August 5, 1999

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The Lawrence Art Guild recently decided to permanently close its gallery in the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza.

When the Lawrence Art Guild's gallery opened in the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza in April 1996, guild members heralded it as an important way to expose artists' work.

During the gallery's tenure, hundreds of Lawrence-area artists displayed their work for a small fee. Displays included oil and watercolor paintings, sculpture, blown glass, textiles and other media.

However, the gallery's future became apparent in December, when a dwindling volunteer staff and decreased sales closed its doors. Hopes were high that the gallery would some day be reopened. On June 21, the guild's members faced reality and voted to permanently close the gallery.

Although economics led to the gallery's closing, guild co-president Jennifer Rinehart-Unekis said it was a complex decision.

"We started out very strong, but over a period of time it became too labor-intensive," Rinehart-Unekis, the gallery's founding director, said.

The gallery's operation required a steady volunteer staff of artists that the guild could not sustain. Other community galleries, such as the Topeka Guild Art Gallery, are partially supported by grants that the Lawrence gallery did not have.

The gallery's location, Rinehart-Unekis added, also made it difficult to build strong community support.

"It wasn't really a good location," she said. "Most of the mall customers seemed from outside of Lawrence, and an outlet mall isn't necessarily the place you'd go to see an art gallery."

The mall's managers donated the rent-free space. However, decreasing sales made it difficult for the guild to pay its utility bills, Rinehart-Unekis said.

John Wysocki, a Lawrence wedding and fine-art photographer, helped establish the gallery when he was guild president. The gallery's activity strengthened in 1997, when it moved from its first-floor suite to an improved exhibit space on the second floor.

"The gallery generated camaraderie between artists," Wysocki said. "Two or three artists could be volunteering in the gallery at once and they could share experiences."

Guild board members wanted to expand the gallery's programming once it moved into the larger space. Sharon Falkner, former director of the gallery, hoped to create joint shows with art guilds in Salina, Topeka, Wichita and Hays. The shows never took place.

Falkner resigned last September amid the guild's discussions about the gallery's possible closing. In her letter of resignation, Falkner said the gallery's lagging sales, customers and volunteer support contributed to her decision.

Laurie Culling, a painter and mixed-media artist from Lawrence, hung the gallery's last show in December.

Despite the closing, Rinehart-Unekis said the nearly 200-member guild would like to open another gallery.

"We are talking about it. Downtown is the place we'd like to be," she said. "However, it would take a large donation of space to be able to afford to open it up as a gallery."

Although the guild is focusing on other projects such as its public workshops and Art in the Park, Rinehart-Unekis said the gallery proved to be a valuable educational tool. The exhibitions gave many artists with no previous gallery experience the confidence to display their work in public.

"It's a really good opportunity for people who don't have work in galleries to get their feet wet," she said.

-- The Mag's phone message number is 832-7146. Send e-mail to jbiles@ljworld.com.

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