Seaside's lone art gallery closes, leaving some to wonder about the future of the city's art scene.
Thursday, July 22, 1999
In November 1995, Seaside artist Sandra Gray was on a high. An arts commissioner for the city of Seaside, she had just opened the city''s first commercial art gallery, Gray''s Art Gallery, at 1104 Broadway Ave.
But three weeks ago, on July 1, Sandra Gray reluctantly closed her gallery, unable to pay the monthly $415 rent. Sadly, the demise of Gray''s gallery mirrors the apparent fate of the visual arts in Seaside.
Four years ago, the city seemed poised on the edge of a renaissance that many hoped would turn Seaside into an "arts colony." A handful of local galleries were ready to open. The city, which already sponsored two dozen popular arts activities annually, and which was the only local city with a written program of arts goals, was looking for federal redevelopment funds to help encourage its emergence as a new artistic center. Folks came up from the San Diego-based Social Movements in Art with a slide show to teach Seaside leaders how other California cities had changed blighted neighborhoods into revitalized zones of bustling creativity and commerce. An arts district for Seaside was seemingly on its way.
Today, no one in Seaside is talking about an arts district. After nearly a year of trying to drum up support for the project, the Seaside Arts Commission, which garnered little beyond lip service from the City Council, lost steam and the notion of an arts district drifted away.
A few days after the closing, Gray was sitting in her second-floor gallery space, which is really nothing more than a sparsely furnished, 700-sq.-ft. office. All that''s left hanging on the walls are about a dozen of her own prints and drawings, mostly of famous jazz musicians. Each picture carries a small hand-written price tag: $10. A fortune less than the pictures for sale five miles away on Ocean Avenue in Carmel.
Why couldn''t the gallery make it? First, Gray says, its upstairs location was devastating. No streetfront window means no passersby drop in. Second, it was a private gallery, paid for out of Gray''s own savings, with no outside funding. Eventually, her pockets proved not deep enough.
The real tragedy of her gallery''s closing, Gray says, is that it removes Seaside''s only place--barring monthly shows at City Hall--where local, less established artists can show their work.
"I have tried to provide space for those new and struggling artists who would not have a chance at the many commercial galleries in Carmel, Monterey or Pacific Grove," she told Seaside City Councilmembers at their July 15 meeting. "I believe strongly that having only art that sells to tourists or the occasional collector does nothing to nurture the new, young, inexperienced but talented artists."
Gray''s gallery also focused on giving wall space to local artists of color like herself, whom she says face constant disappointments and rejections from other local galleries and art centers. She herself was turned away many times, she says, from local art associations and group shows. "Minorities, of which I am one, still find it very hard to be accepted into the established galleries," she charges.
Gray''s held shows for Day of the Dead and Black History Month. Teachers would bring in their classes, to give local kids their first look at a real art gallery.
"This gallery had a cultural significance," says Seaside poet Jackie Armstrong. "It nurtures the different feelings and emotions of minorities, it allows those of us who are minorities to see the expression of our art."
Despite the gallery''s closing, Gray is forging ahead. She''d like to reopen, but on a nonprofit basis, and in a street-level space--she''s learned those lessons, she says. And why not a full-fledged visual arts center rather than just a gallery, a place for exhibits, classes, workshops and performances?
Last week, Gray made a heartfelt presentation to the Seaside City Council, asking for their support. Maybe, she says, the city could find her a rent-free location.
That sounds reasonable, says Seaside City Art Director Colleen Lingenfelter. The Monterey Museum of Art pays $1 a year to the City of Monterey for its downtown building. "Why can''t we do something like that here?" she asks.
"Several groups in the last three or four years have tried to set up something like Sandra Gray''s gallery," Lingenfelter says. "The fact that she''s kept it open so long and made sales indicates there''s a need for something like this in the community."
Seaside Mayor Jerry Smith is also very supportive of Gray''s hopes, although he cautions that he "has to look at the specifics" and bring any such project to the City Council.
"We recognize that her gallery gives a positive image of Seaside," he says. "If there''s anything we can do to help, I''d be supportive of it."
Smith points out the many arts activities already sponsored by the city, from the free Sunday Blues in the Park concert series to the annual African-American cultural celebration at the Oldemeyer Center.
Seaside has talked about an arts center before--four years ago, to be exact. But Sandra Gray wants to try again. Two weeks after the demise of the art gallery she practically willed into existence, Gray is already searching the ''Net for information on how to set up a nonprofit institution.
And if anyone''s looking for a $415-a-month rented office space, Gray knows where to find one--she''s stuck in her lease through September.