Art6, East Broad Street's longest-running art gallery, is hanging by a thread. Financial struggles nearly forced the nonprofit that runs the gallery, an anchor of the increasingly popular First Fridays Art Walk, to shut its doors last month.
Art6 is $3,000 behind on its bills, significant for a nonprofit, and unable to pay rent. “It's a struggle to even stay solvent,” Art6 co-founder Mitzi Humphrey says. The crisis began with the recession, during which many gallery members quit, citing their difficulty in paying dues.
Things worsened late last year when city officials began a code enforcement crackdown on many galleries participating in First Fridays, which often draw more visitors than their occupancy permits allow.
Art6's occupancy permit was downgraded from 100 visitors to 10 visitors at a time. That meant Art6 no longer could rent out its gallery space for receptions and events, a key revenue stream.
But landlord Jim Sease recently gave the gallery a second life. “I've suspended the rent for an indefinite period of time so they can concentrate on fundraising,” says Sease, a lawyer in Mathews County who owns several buildings on Broad, including Tarrant's Cafe, located across the street from Art6.
Sease considers the decision less as charity and more as an investment in the area. “I know the value of the galleries on Broad Street and I know that my other investments. … [my] other buildings on Broad Street … their long-term success will be influenced a lot by the success of the art galleries,” he says, “so I'm going to do all in my power from keeping Art6 from having to move out or from having to close their doors.”
While Sease understands that the city has important concerns about fire safety, he also says the city should place more value on the contribution the galleries make to revitalizing downtown. He's trying to get the city to raise Art6's occupancy limit by bringing the gallery into compliance with the city fire code. He's seeking assistance from the city's Commercial Area Revitalization Effort to help pay for improvements, such as adding a sprinkler system.
During renovations, Art6 won't exhibit on First Fridays, but it will be open, holding an ongoing sale of donated artwork called “Staying Alive.” Local artists such as Frederick Chiriboga, Matt Lively, Henrietta Near, Anne Savedge and Janine Turner are contributing work, which is being sold at lower prices in order to raise money.
Artists also are donating artsy goods, such as an Indonesian shadow puppet. “That was grabbed right away,” Humphrey says. “There's just all kinds of things like that.”