On Saturday, Mar. 20 the Main Street Gallery held the opening reception for their Eighth Annual Spring Group Exhibition. It will be up until Apr. 25. The show includes the work of 22 artists, many of them from the greater Tompkins County area, but a few from Hartford, Conn., Saratoga Springs and Rochester.
Roger and Adrienne Bea Smith moved to Groton from England seven years ago determined to "bring art to Main Street" and to maintain a connection to the greater art world. They chose to settle in Groton because it was accessible to both Ithaca and Syracuse. Adrienne Smith sees the small town location as a definite plus. "We run it, and people see us when they come in, and where could you get bigger windows?" she said, comparing hers favorably to those of the average New York City gallery.
There is no shortage of visual artists within 25 miles of Ithaca, and the Smiths have had no difficulty meeting them and inviting them to put up work at their gallery. Smith teaches at the Community School of Music and Art, and has also taught at Tompkins-Cortland Community College. "We do a lot of stuff in Ithaca," she said. "We go to all the gallery nights. If we see someone [whose work] we like, we talk to them."
Over seven years the Smiths have woven the content of their shows to create a blend of continuity and fresh work. They will give a solo show to an artist who first appears in a juried show, and they will invite a mixture of new artists and ones who have exhibited before to their group shows. The current exhibition includes work several media by Jeremiah Donovan, Syau-Cheng Lai, Kumi Korf, Jenny Pope, Victoria Romanoff and 18 others.
The Smiths have catholic tastes. "We like diversity, all types of art," she said. "It just has to be something that catches our eye-figurative, abstract, conceptual-the diversity is our hallmark." Shortly after it goes up on the walls, artwork appears on their Web site (www.mainstreetgal.com). "We sell paintings here," Smith said of the gallery itself, "and on line. We only put up a few images before the opening, and then more afterward. We have people who look on line and buy without ever having seen the actual artwork."
Smith, however, encourages people-those who want to buy and those just like to look-to attend the opening receptions and to drop by the gallery. "The reception is a party," she said. "The artists who are in the show are there, and you can meet them. Also, the light is nice in there at that time of day."
The social dimension of art is important to Smith. "It's an opportunity for people to get together. The artists are accessible," she said, "and you can ask them questions. And, of course, people network."
In the strict geographical sense the Main Street Gallery is in the village of Groton in central New York State, but in the broader conceptual sense the gallery is along one of the well traveled roads that lead from place to place on the map of the national arts community.
"We have been having national juried shows for seven years," said Smith. "The first one was paintings." Main Street Gallery opened in May 2003. The first juried show went up in December 2003. "We have one of small works [July, August], of photographs [October] and a theme show [June, July]. This year it will be called 'Canine Special.'"
Attracting artists from around the country is not difficult, according to Smith. They place advertisements in national magazines that request the submission of a prospectus. "We find an independent judge-plus my husband-to choose the work," said Smith. "Not everyone who applies gets in, and there are prizes. People come from all over."
Not only do the artists come to Groton from everywhere in the United States, but so do the art buyers. "I'm not sure how common it is to have a national juried show in a small isolated community," admitted Smith. They had not been trying to prove a point; they had just gone ahead and done it.
The lack of isolation from the wider world is a plus, but it has a downside. "About two or three years ago we noticed the economic downturn," said Smith. And although they are plugged into the national arts scene, they do not ignore the fact that they are in Groton. "The community changes around us," Smith said. "We're trying to keep the community going." She said that some village residents stop in during the long gray days of winter just to see some color.
The nature of doing business has evolved over the seven years that they have been in operation, including the advent of social networking. "I'm even Twittering at the moment," admitted Smith. There are two constants, however, maintaining quality and innovation. "You're always seeing new art," the gallery owner said. "We pride ourselves on presentation, but every show is different. We kind of like to push the boundaries."
On Sunday, Mar. 28 at 6 p.m. Roger and Adrienne Bea Smith will be guests on "Shin Hollow Radio" on 93.5 WVBR-FM. The show is a presentation of the Ithaca Times and Finger Lakes Community News.