Paul Costellowas late. Not by much. Still, he should have been under the circus-ready white tent with 60 other people last Tuesday, preparing to celebrate the grand opening of Enosburg Falls’ new downtown block.
Instead, he was across the street at Artist in Residence (AIR), buying pristine blown glass and praising the new art co-op for revitalizing Enosburg. “It’s impressive,” said Costello, executive director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development. “It’s really . . . tremendous.”
So was the 13-alarm fire that ravaged downtown Enosburg on February 2, 2005. The blaze displaced five businesses, destroyed eight apartments, and left 12 people homeless. But now the new, red-brick block — a Housing Vermont project — contains more than two-dozen apartments and four ground-level businesses, including AIR. Talk about creative economy.
“Without the fire, it’s likely we wouldn’t be here,” said Nancy Patch, a self-dubbed “Enosburger” (translation: “native”) and AIR board treasurer. “No one talked about doing this before the fire.”
Last spring, Patch sought new studio space for two Enosburg artist-friends when she heard the rebuilt block had a vacancy. She called Andy Broderick of Housing Vermont. “Can you hold it for a few weeks?” she asked him. “I’d like to toss around an idea I’ve had.”
A year later, Patch and other AIR organizers have established a new template for Vermont art co-ops.
One part gallery, one part store, and two parts art club, AIR provides display and sales space for its members, whose offerings cover all mediums: painting, photography, pottery, stained glass, baskets, fiber arts, woodworking — you name it.
AIR has 1875 square feet of space, just enough for the 46 local artists whose works appear on white walls and in sparkling glass cases. On the first Thursday of each month, AIR hosts a free reception for four featured artists. Every member-artist’s work is permanently on display and sale.
The artist’s cost? A very reasonable $300 annually. And each member agrees to work at AIR five days a year.
Unlike other art co-ops in the state, where investors collect a commission on sales, AIR lets its artists keep their money. The gallery relies solely on membership dues, money from sponsors (available at various donation levels), and rent from an in-house artist’s studio and a framing shop.
“Now we need to make this a destination,” Patch said.
One plan to do so includes an AIR-generated tour map of little-known art galleries outside Chittenden County. Wayne Tarr likes that idea. The St. Albans photographer joined AIR to show and sell the body of portrait work he has amassed for 40-plus juried shows over the past 15 years.
“And the other thing,” he explained, “is that this place will give me a bit more freedom with my fine artwork and make me focus on projects that will fit into this gallery.”
Over the years, Patch has seen craft shops in her hometown, but never a fine-art gallery. She asks: “What else makes a downtown more fun than the arts?” Now, Enosburgers can answer that question.