Envisioning community


Twenty years ago, a group of local artists, who’d long met in the living rooms and public libraries of the county to discuss their craft, made a bold decision. They formed a co-op art gallery that has become a staple of downtown Bremerton.

Collective Visions, at the corner of Fourth Street and Pacific Avenue, survived what was arguably the downtown’s worst years in the mid-90s and has cultivated an arts community that has continued to churn out works of the best artists in Bremerton and around West Sound.

“We have persisted,” said artist Alan Newberg, one of four remaining original members. “And we’re proud of that fact.”

On Friday, the gallery will open its doors for the event that many would argue it started as one of the first in the state: the art walk. It is one of many ways — and perhaps the most prominent way — that the gallery has helped its surrounding community.

“We see ourselves as community builders,” Newberg said.

The gallery actually began as the Washington Avenue Art Gallery, on that street, a few blocks away, in 1994. But just two years later, the co-op moved into its current location after McBrides Hallmark packed up and left downtown. They couldn’t beat the initial $500 a month in rent there, Newberg recalled.

There was a lot to do to convert the building, constructed to be a bank, into an art gallery. The orange shag carpet had to go. And the 20-plus artists within the co-op weren’t told initially that there was even a downstairs to the building. It had been covered up, so the artists peeled back a makeshift floor to find a beautiful staircase.

 “It was a dark dungeon down there,” remembered Barbara Mills, another original artist in the gallery.

The gallery now includes some 3,400 square feet of space to showcase all its members, one of the bigger art galleries in the state. The room allows the cooperative to feature prominently one of its artists every month. (This month’s exhibit comes from Michelle Van Berkom (pictured), whose watercolor paintings take the viewer on a tour of some of North Mason’s most pastoral settings). They all pay dues to keep the gallery going but that allows for lower commissions on art sold there.

The gallery also takes center stage in the state art community each year during its annual CVG show. In its ninth year, Newberg said the even has served its purpose:  “create an event that would be on the cultural calendar of the county and beyond.” (Deadline for the 2015 show is Nov. 17, by the way.)

The gallery has played host to more than just art on its walls, though. They’ve had more than 100 concerts. Bremerton Mayoral Candidate Louis Mentor held his campaign kickoff there. They also started “Ars Poetica,” a show in which area poets would submit a poem to be paired with an artist, who would illustrate it.

But it all comes back to the art that has kept it going. The gallery has roughly as many artists now as it did when it started. Ages range from early-20s to mid-90s. They’ve seen many businesses and even art galleries come and go downtown. But they’ve maintained.

“The gallery has been a major success story,” said Ken Lundemo, another of the original artists. “I haven’t heard of an equal in my life that has stuck it out, have so much talent come and go. It’s going to go on.”

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