Struggling art gallery looks for solutions

BUCKHANNON – More than 30 artists, business leaders and community members joined forces this week to craft a new solution to the ongoing struggles facing the Main Street Art Gallery in Buckhannon, which is at risk of shutting down.

“It’s no quick fix,” Chef Bear, an artist involved in efforts to keep the art gallery open, said at the meeting’s outset.

During a meeting Thursday, proposed solutions to the gallery’s problems were broken into five categories, relating to membership fees, operating hours, staffing, art displays and products showcased.

By the meeting’s end, three proposals seemed to have a clear majority vote. Those remedies include expanding the gallery’s hours from three to seven days a week, requiring participating artists to work at the gallery one day per month and changing the fee schedule so that artists would pay a monthly – rather than yearly – fee.

But Main Street Arts Cooperative Board President Tom Lynch said that those proposed remedies would have to be introduced into the gallery gradually over time and could not be thrust upon members suddenly.

While many options discussed at the meeting seemed to have a clear consensus, the ultimate decision made was to consider the results and feedback of the evening and reconvene at 11 a.m. on Nov. 21 at C.J. Maggie’s Restaurant in Buckhannon. There, volunteers will begin to formulate a plan for implementing or reevaluating the meeting’s results.

“The gallery as it is just isn’t working,” Laura Meadows, executive director of the Upshur Convention & Visitors Bureau, said.

As it stands today, the gallery is not profiting enough to pay its operational costs, and revenues seem to have dropped significantly this year. In 2011, the gallery’s overall revenue totaled $25,237, which encompasses sold artwork and annual membership fees. In 2012, that amount was $24,133. But as of Thursday, revenue for 2013 was only $13,370. Lynch said that bills and rent total about $900 monthly, or roughly $10,800 a year.

Membership fees aside, the revenue is split between the selling artist and the gallery. The gallery usually takes about 40 percent commission from the sold artwork. Currently, members pay a $100 yearly fee to showcase their work in the gallery.

Many participating volunteers pointed out that the current system relies heavily on just those artists whose work is selling. Because of the limited hours – due to a shortage of volunteers who are willing to work at the gallery – artwork isn’t selling and artists are bolting for the door.

As people shared their ideas about how to keep the gallery open, the majority of participating volunteers agreed that artists should work at the gallery at least one day per month with the option to appoint a substitute if they cannot work.

This proposal would get artists – or someone who knows a great deal about those artists’ work – into the gallery where visitors can interact with them. It would also resolve the issue of the gallery only being open three days a week by expanding its hours which may, in turn, generate more revenue.

The majority of meeting attendees seemed to agree that members should pay a yearly – rather than monthly – fee. One option discussed was for artists to pay $30 per month, while a second was for artists to instead pay a 40 to 50 percent commission to the gallery on each work sold. The majority of attendees voted for the flat monthly fee, but a substantial amount of others wanted some type of combination of the two.

Two proposals for new hours spawned an entirely different third option when a table full of participating volunteers created their own ideal hours.

They said the gallery should be open from 1-4 p.m. on Sundays and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays. Their idea garnered the majority vote by a landslide with only a few volunteers preferring other scenarios.

tact Melissa Toothman by email at