Sunday, June 5, 2011

CHANGES: 215 College Gallery Closes on June 26

Vermont Art Zine recently received the sad news that 215 College Gallery – one of Vermont’s most interesting, professional, and adventurous galleries – is closing. The editors of Vermont Art Zine each wished to write a few words about the gallery. Our remarks are followed by the gallery’s press release about the closing.

Marc Awodey:

Since 215 College St. Gallery doesn’t close until the end of June, I’ll write about it in the present tense. It’s one of Vermont’s best galleries, and an important fixture in the arts community because, in addition to having great shows for the last five years, it’s a truly cooperative artist-run gallery. The space isn’t a gallery with studios attached. It’s not primarily a retail space with various gift ideas and tchotchkes available. It’s not a cafe venue. 215 is a real gallery, with top notch curation and critically informed exhibitions. And incidentally, the cooperative of artists who founded and maintain 215 College are all women, as well as mature accomplished artists. It’s not a place devoted to “emerging” artists and designers the way so many Burlington venues are these days.

As a critic with Seven Days, and occasionally Art New England, I’ve written about 215 shows perhaps ten times over the last five years. Maybe more. The exhibitions there are always both challenging and rewarding. At 215 the artists inform fellow artists, as well as the public, on contemporary critical issues in the visual arts. There were, or I mean are, aesthetic epiphanies to be witnessed in every show. There’s also a feeling that each exhibiting artist is a “first among equals” during her exhibition, and every artist treats gallery visitors to their very best work.

Burlington is one of the most vibrant little art towns in America, and that reputation isn’t going away soon. Galleries here tend to come and go after a few years, and a temporary presence is practically expected when spaces don’t compromise on the material they present. At 215 College Gallery only the strongest visual art was allowed up the stairs and through the door on the left. That’s why it IS a successful gallery, at least till the end of June. After that its past exhibitions and cooperative model will continue to be inspiring for many years to come.

Janet Van Fleet:

When I visited 215 College, I could always depend on finding serious, top-of-the-line work, perfectly mounted in an attractive and well-maintained space. That’s because the gallery was owned and run by the accomplished artists who exhibited there. They were willing to put money and time into the gallery so they had choice about what they exhibited and how the space looked. But it also meant that they had to do everything themselves, and each artist had to be at the gallery to staff the place when their shows were up. I know what a big commitment this was, because I was one of the guest artists at the gallery, exhibiting with Ayn Baldwin Riehle in 2008.

This is one of the huge tensions in the life of committed, professional artists – the number of non-art things that have to be done to manage an even moderately- successful career. Art is like Good Food – you need to make sure there’s quality control from seed to table. Artists have to make good work, but also frame or finish well, find venues, cultivate collectors, and try to hustle the press to get some ink (or pixels, in the case of Vermont Art Zine). It made sense to the members of 215 to have the restaurant at the farm, so to speak.

I regret that, unlike Marc, I only wrote two reviews of shows at the gallery, and I know the exhibits there always deserved much more critical attention than they got. But, like 215 College Gallery, Vermont Art Zine is also an all-volunteer effort, and I live in Cabot, a long way from Burlington.

In the end, I suspect it got to be too much. They had done it. If the world didn’t exactly beat a path to the door with checkbooks in hand, they knew they had done a damned good job, and presented their artwork the way it needed to be presented. So hurrah for the artists of 215 College Gallery, who have put their money, their muscle, and their talent to work for the community for the last five years. Thank you.

215 College Gallery’s Closing Statement:

After five years on the Burlington arts scene, 215 College Gallery will be closing its doors on June 26th. What started five years ago on the heels of a "what if?" moment, grew, with tremendous encouragement, into a recognized and respected venue for contemporary, thoughtful exhibitions. In 2005, artists Charlotte Hastings and Catherine Hall got together at Hall's Burlington studio on College Street. "I invited her to look at the space…to ask her opinion of turning it into a cooperative gallery," recalls Hall. Hall and the current artist members credit Hastings with the requisite enthusiasm and energy to move the dream of a gallery into reality. Charlotte Hastings was a sculptor and educator who died in 2006 of pancreatic cancer, months before the first exhibition opened in April of that year at 215 College Gallery. We are proud to have been able to realize the goal of Charlotte's efforts: an independent, successful, artist run gallery.

Although 215 College Gallery will no longer exist as a formal space, the artists of 215 College Gallery continue their collective and individual involvements with their art practices. Our experience as a part of the growing community of Burlington art venues has been invaluable. We would like to thank you, the press, friends, artists, and art lovers for your enthusiastic appreciation and support for 215 College Gallery, and all the exhibition spaces, big and small, where art continues to matter.