A new center for arts, culture

Gayle Sleznick, from San Juan Bautista, stands next to one of her favorite pieces, a mixed media collage of rocks and water, that is part of a women's art exhibit at the Blak Sage Gallery opening Oct. 5.

The Blak Sage Gallery is undergoing a rebirth of sorts as it opens its doors for an artists’ reception Friday from 5 to 7 p.m., 727 San Benito St., that will feature the work of nine local women artists.

The local gallery space, renovated by Jim and Deborah Wood to be a commercial fine arts gallery, will now be operated by the San Benito County Arts Council as a nonprofit arts and cultural center.

“Jim, the owner, had been operating it as a commercial fine arts gallery,” said Jennifer Laine, the executive director of the Arts Council. “It’s really hard to generate enough sales” to cover operating expenses.

She said she and the Arts Council board members approached Wood with the idea of supporting the gallery through a grant. They received a Creating Public Value grant from the California Arts Council, with a matching grant from the Community Foundation for San Benito County, to turn the space into a vibrant arts center in the community.

The first-year seed money will help the Arts Council put up rotating exhibits; maintain a stock of arts, crafts, gifts, jewelry and cards made by local artists for sale; host First Friday events each month to help promote local businesses; host open mic poetry and youth poetry events; create a preschool arts education program; offer art programs, workshops and seminars; and make the space available for a nominal rental fee to local nonprofits, businesses and individuals.

Laine stressed the grant funding is seed money to give the Arts Council time to establish support in the community to keep the gallery operating over the long term.

“We really need artists, visitors and others to say they want to keep it in the community and they need to support it,” Laine said.

Amanda Chiado, who has a background in writing and education, is the recently hired gallery assistant. She will be working with the preschool children on the arts education program and will be keeping the gallery open regular hours for visitors.

She said Laine approached her as a resource for the preschool program and when the gallery assistant position was posted, it seemed like a good fit. Chiado teaches poetry in San Juan through the California Poets in the Schools program, but all kinds of art run in her family. She said her siblings draw, paint and play musical instruments.

In hiring Chiado, Laine said she was looking for someone who would be flexible about the job duties.

“I’m the executive director and I write grants, but I also take out the trash,” she said. “I was looking for a like-minded person who would see the potential (in the gallery) and wouldn’t mind cleaning the windows.”

Chiado said last week that she was looking forward to the first artists’ reception since she was hired.

“You can feel the surge of energy – motivating people and connecting with people,” she said.

Let the show begin

The first show came about when members of the gallery committee, including Arts Council board members, artists and others from the community, set about organizing a fall show.

“They knew they wanted to go with a group show,” Laine said.

They didn’t have a theme and instead they brain-stormed local artists. The committee members soon realized as they thought about the leading artists in the community – many of the names belonged to women.

“We noticed there are a lot of really talented women in the community,” Laine said, adding that the emphasis on the fall show became highlighting their works.

On display in the gallery through Nov. 30, the show features pieces by Carole Belliveau, Darlene Boyd, Shannon Grissom, Jane Rekedal, Sylvia Rios, Louise Roy, Kathleen Sheridan, Gayle Sleznick and Janeice Van Loon.

“We all work by ourselves,” said Grissom, the week before the reception. “We support each other in spirit, but it’s nice to be all in one place.”

Roy said she believed the gallery can open art to some people who might be intimidated to go into shows. She is hoping that through more events at Blak Sage residents will become more comfortable looking at art.

“I hope the gallery becomes a real gathering place,” Rekedal said.

Laine said the artists’ reception will double as a First Friday event, a phenomena in other cities where downtown businesses stay open late and partner with musicians, visual artists and others to draw people in for entertainment and shopping. The First Friday series launched last spring, but has been slow at catching on.

The Women Artists of San Benito County show is sponsored by the San Benito Arts Council, Jim and Deborah Wood, the California Arts Council, the Community Foundation for San Benito County and the Women’s Club of Hollister.

For more on the San Benito Arts Council or the Blak Sage Gallery, visit www.sanbenitoarts.org or call 636-2787.

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