As the Red Chair Gallery moves toward its ninth birthday in 2019, big things are in the works. The artist-run, downtown Bend gallery sits in a prime location in the historic O’Kane Building, at the southwest corner of Bond Street and Oregon Avenue in downtown Bend, where it opened in August 2010.
Its stable of members and the genres they work in tend to remain constant. When an artist does leave, he or she is replaced with someone mining a similar creative vein.
“We still keep that balance,” co-founder and managing partner Rita Dunlavy said. “The other good thing about this gallery is none of our artists compete with one another. There are only so many pastel artists, and so many potters. Nobody has the same pottery. Everything is different.”
Because of the relative stability of Red Chair’s member artists and the day-to-day operations at the store, the changes afoot may not be immediately evident. But beyond the paintings, sculptures, jewelry, wood, fiber on the shop’s walls and surfaces, changes are taking shape behind the scenery, from the design of the Red Chair website to the way the gallery is managed.
Red Chair is artist-run, but it is not a co-op. It was launched by six partners, a number that quickly culled to four within months of its 2010 opening. Dozens more artists were brought in as gallery members to work alongside the four managing partners, filling the shop with their colorful works and working one day a month clerking in the store.
From the start, the model proved a success.
“Our tagline was ‘Fine Art and Contemporary Crafts,’” said Dunlavy, who creates glass mosaics with a 3D effect. “And there was something for everyone, and that got us through the recession, and that just flowed into the tourists remembered us. People come in, we always say, ‘Have you been in here before?’ ‘Oh no, I’m visiting my sister and she said we have to go here.’”
“Or ‘I come in here every year when I’m in town,’” said co-founder Lise Hoffman-McCabe, a plein air pastel painter. “We hear that all the time.”
“A good part of that is local artists — huge,” Dunlavy said. “The other part of it is a lot of local people come because they can buy their Christmas presents and things like that without breaking the bank.”
Now, with two more co-founders — Dee McBrien-Lee and Linda Heisserman — departing, Red Chair will soon be left with Hoffman-McCabe and Dunlavy as the two last founding partners. But the two artists consider the changes around the gallery a “reset,” Dunlavy said, “just like when we change the art around.”
Because the partners had always shared management responsibilities at the gallery, and Hoffman-McCabe spends much of her time in France, that would theoretically leave Dunlavy, who previously handled business and finances at the gallery, as the remaining manager in town.
But Dunlavy has an ace up her sleeve: Red Chair is home to a few dozen artists, and many of them have backgrounds in marketing, business, teaching, journalism and more. What’s more, they’ve expressed an interest in helping more, and now there will be five teams with someone in that medium leading it. For example painter Linda Swindle, a former teacher, will lead the 2D art team. Michele Gwinup, co-owner of Blue Spruce Pottery — and the late Blue Spruce Gallery — will lead the clay team.
In total, the five leaders will represent all the gallery’s artists and will meet with the three-person marketing committee.
“We’re using the existing artists because so many have been there since the beginning, to make it happen,” Dunlavy said. “There’s no way in the world that she (Hoffman-McCabe) and I can do it by ourselves. She’s not around enough, and I’m only one person.”
Over 8½ years of working together, “You get to know everything about them that you need to know. You know what they used to do before they became artists,” Dunlavy said.
“For example, Julia Kennedy, who’s part of the marketing committee, she’s a jeweler. She has an MBA from Columbia in marketing. She was a journalist in New York City and Seattle for most of her first career.”
Another notable change in 2019 will be the absence of Red Chair’s student show, which gave high school student artists a taste of real-world gallery experience and had become an April tradition at the gallery. Dunlavy and Hoffman-McCabe hope to revive it in 2020.
Red Chair has “evolved,” Dunlavy said. “And it’s not going to go away.”