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Artisans Gallery of Tilton trying to stay afloat

April 14, 2010
TILTON — In better economic times, the Artisans Gallery on Main Street had 30 members; now, the remaining 11 members are hanging on, hoping to ride out the recession so they can continue to bring cultural opportunities and art to the community.

The gallery has been operating since 2007 and was started in an effort to bring people downtown by offering a venue for browsing and purchasing local art, and for taking inexpensive art classes taught by the gallery's juried members. The organization started with eight members and grew to 30 but has since dropped back to 11.

Gallery member Darrell Dunn said that as the economy worsened, members could no longer afford the $50 a month it costs to rent space in the two-room store. One member, a wood turner, got a full-time job but then couldn't work his eight-hour monthly shift at the gallery.

"Either they didn't have a job and couldn't afford it, or they got a job and couldn't do the hours," Dunn said. "A lot of the people that have been in and out of here are really talented."

A walk through the gallery reveals everything from high-end, thousand-dollar art and woodwork to $2 photo bookmarks, $5 handmade jewelry, and $15 hand-sewn pillows. For the more expensive items, such as a $250 wooden rocking horse, the gallery offers a layaway program where customers can make regular payments until the total cost has been paid for.

"There's a price range for everybody," Dunn said.

Dunn himself is a printmaker and sells less expensive cardstock versions of his prints, as well as large framed prints upwards of $1,000. He joined the gallery because he was producing the art anyway and realized it would be a good opportunity to show it to potential customers. The gallery's inception also coincided with a job loss.

"I was laid off in 2007," he said. "I had all this artwork I made that had accumulated in my basement."

Dunn currently holds a full-time temp job as a census worker, but he's also been spending a lot of time trying to promote the gallery.

Though the organization was supposed to try for nonprofit status when it first started, Dunn said, administrative difficulties prevented that from happening, and he spent the past year applying for the 501(c)(3) status. It was granted in September, and since then he has applied for a couple of grants that would help fund the gallery's affordable art classes. Instead of hundreds of dollars for a class, the artisans at the gallery charge much less, but Dunn said some people still can't afford a $65 class when they're having a hard time paying for rent and food. A grant would allow low to moderate-income people a chance to explore the arts without spending the money.

The grants he has applied for so far have been denied, and Dunn said he realizes that most grants these days are understandably going to organizations that provide essentials. Still, he said, he'd like the gallery to be able to offer classes that are affordable for everyone.

"Culturally for the Lakes Region, it's a benefit," Dunn said. "We're trying to get the community excited about art."

Since its inception, the gallery has held several open-house style events, with free demonstrations and crafts for kids. It also houses art shows for Winnisquam schools.

Dunn said the goal of the nonprofit is to become self-sufficient, allowing artists to sell their work on a commissioned basis. He said that would help retain members longer, because there would be no monthly rental fee.

For now, the artists will keep trying to sell their work and stay afloat. The building lease is up in 2011, and Dunn said he doubts the $800 monthly rent will stay that low. Though they'd like to stay on Main Street, Dunn said he's been looking into other options in Tilton as well. Ultimately, he'd like to work with a landlord who might be willing to give the gallery a break on rent and in turn write it off as a tax-deductible donation.

"I'm sure there's somebody out there who wants to support the arts," Dunn said.

Anyone who is interested in having their artwork juried for potential gallery membership, or anyone who wants to make a tax-deductible donation to the Artisans Gallery of Tilton can contact Dunn at 470-4582 or email info@tiltonartisans.org.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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