July 2024
Three Decades, Together
Arts Prescott Co-op Gallery celebrates a milestone anniversary

Amid the growth Prescott has been experiencing in recent years it’s worth noting that some local businesses have endured and thrived even during the pandemic. One such business, as unique as it is successful, is the Arts Prescott Cooperative Gallery on Whiskey Row. Arts Prescott is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month. Always a vibrant arts community, Prescott has many galleries, but none quite like the Co-op. With its unusual business model, the gallery has grown, adjusted to changing times and connected local artists with the community consistently for three decades.

In 1994 metal sculptor and painter Royce Carlson had a dream about a group of artists working in a shared space. When he woke up, he thought, “We should have a co-op gallery in Prescott!” He shared his idea with another artist, who responded, “Oh, yeah, there’s a meeting about that on Monday at Jim Antonius’ place.” Cindy Meyers is credited with first sharing an idea that seems to have been just waiting to take shape. A group of artists met in a rented space at Montezuma and Goodwin Streets, working together to tear out old carpeting and ancient fixtures to make way for local art. With no room to store chairs, meetings were held sitting on the floor. Founding member and jeweler Lana Ante remembers looking out the front door and thinking, “Is this real? Do we actually have a gallery?”

For display they acquired some old cases from Bucky O’Neil’s gun shop and put up pegboard. They got some used fluorescent lights, and wrapped sold items in newspaper. The only real controversy was over the name of the gallery. “Oomph” and “Square One Gallery” were rejected in favor of Arts Prescott Cooperative Gallery.

Members initially chipped in for display stands, lighting and toilet paper till dues and a steady gallery income could cover the overhead.

After just a few months the group signed a lease for 134 S. Montezuma, owned by the Fields family. Francis Fields, an accomplished watercolor painter and later weaver, was a great supporter of the gallery, and the relationship continues with her children and grandchildren to this day. A fixture on Whiskey Row, the gallery is frequented by locals and tourists year-round.

Arts Prescott is different from other galleries in several ways. When you walk in there is always a member working the front desk. The gallery is owned and run by the members, who take turns working shifts, sitting on the board and committees, each responsible for setting up and maintaining their own display. It feels really healthy to have artists working with customers and selling one another’s work.

This gallery is also unique in Prescott for its commitment to including emerging artists as well as established artists, and many members have got started as professionals by joining the gallery.

Since its first year Arts Prescott has hosted an annual holiday fundraiser for a local nonprofit as a way of giving back to the community. The first fundraiser was for Northland Cares. Member and non-member artists donate work for a monthlong show, the proceeds from which all go to the designated organization. The gallery alternates the beneficiaries, so that one year it will be an animal-related nonprofit (like the Yavapai Humane Trappers or a donkey rescue) and the next a human-focused group (such as the Coalition for Compassion and Justice or fallen firefighters).

Arts Prescott currently has 30 members who meet monthly and function as a community. It’s written into the bylaws that any member can take a medical leave of absence. If a member gets sick and can’t work their shift, an email goes out to the group and the shift is generally covered within 15 minutes. Members have had to take sometimes many weeks of leave for health reasons, and the group is unfailingly supportive in such instances. Current board President Michelle Veatch says, “One of the best things is that we really take care of each other. If something needs to get done, someone will step up.” Not many businesses have that written into their bylaws.

Glass artist Vanessa Tamarin joined in the early months of the Co-op and is still a member. She has made her living from her gallery sales and recently paid off her house. “Being able to support myself as a single mom with my art was like living a dream.” As a member of a large cooperative, Vanessa was able to homeschool her son and work at the gallery. She has no plans to leave anytime soon. “I’m where I’m supposed to be. I’m home.”

Abby Brill is Associate Editor of 5enses and an Arts Prescott member.

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