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Art Beat

August 26, 2004


Phantom galleries



NANCY FLEMMING [photo below] WAS MAYOR IN SEPTEMBER OF 1994 when the Eureka City Council designated the town's Main Street region a Cultural Arts Resource District. "There was a border between Old Town -- the old `red light district' -- and the rest of the city," Flemming said when we met for coffee the other day. "Bringing them together was obviously very important, and we thought one of the ways to cross that border was to create an arts district."

This Cultural Arts designation paved the way for a cornucopia of collaborations among local artists, arts organizations and businesses. One of the most successful of these was a partnership between the Humboldt Arts Council and Eureka Main Street called "Phantom Galleries," a program that ultimately evolved into the current Arts Alive! event.Photo of Nancy Flemming

"Sally [Arnot] brought the Phantom Gallery idea back from somewhere she went, Arizona, I think, but I'd seen it in Florida, too. The idea is to take empty spaces, make them obviously more attractive by turning them into temporary galleries, and before you know it, they're all full," rented by people who turned them into shops or other businesses, Flemming said. "What happened here was that we ran out of spaces. It's a huge success story."

My studio was in Old Town at the time, so I remember those Phantom Galleries well. They were here one day and gone the next, popping up in empty storefronts all over town and providing a tantalizing, if temporary, glimpse of the largely hidden talent in our midst. The program lasted for only a couple of years before it turned into Arts Alive!, but I always thought those Phantom Galleries provided a perfect metaphor for the temporary nature of so many of Eureka's art sites. I look at today's venues and see ghosts of yesterdays.

There were different galleries in town 10 years ago. Ann Pierson was running the Art Center Gallery at Second & G; Paul and Tammy Callens had The Pink Lady Gallery across from the Ingomar (later to become Gallerie Rouge under Renee Russell); Atlee & Atlee, the first-rate gallery owned by Mike Atlee that everyone wanted to be in, was on Third Street, up by the Hotel Carter.

Ambiance Gallery was on Second Street, where Humboldt's Finest is today, and the Humboldt Arts Council was in transition -- moving from its longtime spot at 422 First St. (when the building was retrofitted) to a temporary home on E Street, in the space Gallery Dog currently occupies.

While The Ink People and the Old Town Art Gallery remain in their same locations, almost every other art venue in Eureka has changed over the past 10 years.

There was no Morris Graves Museum in '94, no First Street Gallery, no Piante, no Gallery Dog. Only a few local businesses were exhibiting art, a phenomenon that changed big-time with the kick-off of the official Arts Alive! in 1996. Only 10 to 12 galleries and businesses participated in that first event; today 75 to 80 venues typically open their doors to the public on the first Saturday of the month.

The majority of these venues, of course, aren't real art galleries. They're gift shops and salons, coffee shops and clothing stores, pretty much any business that has empty walls. Many of the business owners have a genuine love of art; others just want to get in on the party. Communal support for this lively and eclectic mix of voices and venues is one reason Arts Alive! has become such a smashing success, in spite of Eureka's shortage of galleries.

Yet the community remains in dire need of more pure gallery space. Over the years, we've lost as many art galleries as we've gained, particularly privately owned ones. We've also been steadily losing work produced by many of our best local artists to larger markets outside the area, including San Francisco, New York, Santa Fe and Seattle. I personally know many accomplished artists who got their start here and would be happy to show locally again if more gallery space and a stronger market for art were available.

Nancy Flemming agrees the gallery situation is a problem. "We need galleries, and to have galleries you have to create a market, and to create a market you need galleries. It's a Catch-22 situation right now," she said. "Our arts community is really, really rich, but needs so much more exposure. Part of helping galleries happen is to make a fertile climate for that. Marketing is incredibly important."

This was clearly a topic Flemming had given some thought to. "We could have familiarity trips with arts writers, gallery owners, museum directors, bring them up here on Arts Alive! weekends," she said. "We should be in the art magazines, in Town and Country, in interior design magazines. I was shocked when I saw a national gallery guide recently, and the inside cover was talking about the demise of Morris Graves and the history of the artist, and we weren't included in the listings. I was sick. Just sick."

According to Flemming, marketing our Cultural Arts Resource District requires a collaborative effort between the community and the city.

"The Arts and Culture Commission could help make it happen," she said. "The same people who created Arts Alive! could also create, and have the funding for, the marketing campaign that must happen if we're to continue to focus on the arts for destination tourism.

"One of the principles I've always lived my life by is that `it doesn't have to be this way.' You can always make it better," she added. "We're very lucky here. This is an incredibly beautiful place inhabited by talented and hard, hardworking people. You just can't beat that. We've got everything in place to be incredibly successful. Period."

Photo circa 1974 of Brenda Tuxford


The art community is still reeling from the news of the recent death of local artist and Ink People co-founder Brenda Tuxford [photo circa 1974]. Brenda died in her sleep of an apparent heart attack on her 66th birthday. She was in Amsterdam for her son's wedding, which, sadly, she didn't get to attend. Our heartfelt condolences go out to Brenda's family and her many, many friends in the community.

The Ink People will have a memorial service for Brenda, to be announced at a later date. Sharon Bonino is also organizing a retrospective exhibit of the artist's work at AG Edwards (downtown on Fifth), to take place in October, with an Arts Alive! opening.
I'll be working on an article about Brenda's life and her contribution to our community, so if anyone has stories they'd like to share, please e-mail me at, or write to me in care of the Journal.

Linda Mitchell can be reached via




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