By Sherrod Blankner
When the news came on March 19th that all of California had to shelter-in-place and our gallery had close its doors immediately, we began to wonder if our little store would be a casualty of the pandemic. Our co-op had to pivot quickly from a brick-and-mortar gallery to an online ecommerce platform. (link to https://www.4thstreetfineartshop.com). Though we don’t yet know the future for our gallery, I wanted to write about the history of our group in this blog post, to give you, readers, an idea of the deep bonds that may help us survive.
I joined the studio in 2003, when it was operating as “4th Street Studio” and located at 4th and Virginia. At the time, I was thirty-three, recently married and new to the East Bay. Like many of the artists, I worked a day job and dreamed of the day when I could paint full time.
For ten years, the gallery was run by our fearless leader, Gera Hasse, who created a welcoming and creative atmosphere for all her artists. Because she handled all the stressful parts of the gallery, like making sales, paying rent and publicity, we artists just painted, lunched, and philosophized. Overflowing receptions and rockin’ Halloween parties symbolized the good times at the studio.
In 2011, we experienced a near-death experience, when we lost our lease at our old location. Many of us could not imagine our group being scattered to the winds, never to be together again. In small scouting parties, we began searching for a new location that could hold at least fifteen people. The still lingering slump from the 2008 financial crisis helped us, for rents were low at the time. After multiple false starts we settled on a new lease three blocks from our old location. We moved into 2000 4th Street in October, 2012.
In our new location, we operate as a co-op, with the work distributed across our eighteen members. Learning to run a gallery as a group proved challenging. We’ve all had moments when we wanted to storm out in a huff and say “I’m never talking to you again!” but somehow we have persevered. After eight years in the new location, our doors are still open and a core group of the original members remains. New members have enlivened our group and schooled us in the latest technology to make and sell art.
When COVID-19 hit, like many people, we thought it would last a month or two. Now we understand we may be facing a year of upheaval, with unexpected closures or little foot traffic. Still, when we met to decide whether we should give up, everyone voted no. The ties that bind us are long years of working together. We have given each other critiques, shared supplies, strategized on shows, consoled each other on failures and cheered (maybe a bit jealously) when some of our members scored shows in New York. We have never said the word “love” in our by-laws and mission statements but not giving up is a form of love. I am typical of many of our members—I got older, never really quit the day job or got famous, but I still smile with pleasure every time I pick up a paint brush. That’s why we still make art.
Come by, friends, because we are still open!
It’s taken me a little while to settle down and focus on making something specific these past few weeks. The world has been ravaged by a virus that prompted acts of courage, as well as political calculations and irrational policies. As during any crisis, heroes saved the day or at least the hour; villains, idiots, and villainous idiots gave humans a bad name. The majority of us, mere mortals, caught in between, tried to simply figure out what to do.
One thing soon became clear to most: the fastest antidote to the pandemic, if not to the virus itself, was self-isolation. As one of the privileged few not immediately (physically or economically) at risk, I was barely affected by the confinement orders themselves. The disease's progression, the wave of suffering it created, and the uncertainty of the future have dragged me down. I can't help but worry about my more vulnerable friends and family members. I am especially weary of the distance separating me from my aging parents, who live on another continent, and whom I probably won't be able to visit for a very long time.
Still, well aware of my good fortune to be able to "shelter in place" in a green and peaceful environment, I have set up shop in my backyard. Using leftover wire from previous projects, I have been making small sculptures. Some are reminiscent of trees, others pod-like. I thought to liven them up with lichen collected from fallen branches and twigs during walks. I added air plants for variety, and because they, like lichen, survive on nutrients in the air, light and a simple, if regular, spritz of water.
Once again, making art has helped me to process chaos and make some sense of it. These miniature ecosystems remind me of life during the pandemic. Arranging plants and lichen in their various wire niches, I think of our homes containing our lives, and families having to share limited space. Some of them are reunited after living independently, a challenging yet worthy exercise in communication and adaptability.
I look at my “life pods", and they make me smile. I remember the words of a teacher I recently heard interviewed (on podcast The Daily, “The Struggle to Teach From Afar”). She talked about how she was envisioning her classroom during the pandemic. She said one of the things she was going to miss most was the "calming caddy." It was a collection of simple things, such as a little stuffed animal or scented lotion. A child could pick these items up to help them deal with powerful emotions and bring them gently back to the classroom.
I hope everyone can find a little something to lift their spirits and lighten, even briefly, the weight of the world on their shoulders, a little something to remind them of how life, even when confined, can flourish. One silver lining of the pandemic might be how it makes us look inwards and, if only for a minute, find pleasure and hope in simple things.
Streeters share studio news
Recommended Artist Resources
Frames - Cheap Joes
Matboard - REDImat
Paint - Blick Art, Cheap Joes
Plastic bags - Clearbags
Shipping supplies - Uline
Shoe Making - blog
Supplies - ASW Express
Postcards - PS Prints