Almost a decade ago, artist Stuart Breidenstein had a vision of an industrial area on Bend’s east side becoming a haven for artists.

Two and a half years ago, he and fellow artist Abby ­Dubief co-founded Bright Place Gallery, an 11-member collective at 909 SE Armour Ave., a block north of the intersection of Ninth Street and Wilson Avenue.

The shop sits in the middle of the 2-acre 9th Street Village, where patrons can browse and purchase goods from the gallery and mingle with its resident artists. Nearby, they can grab a fresh beer at neighboring Bevel Craft Brewing Taproom, and food from burritos to gator tail at one of six food carts.

Though it took longer than Breidenstein predicted, 9th Street Village and the surrounding area are teeming with creative folk. Bright Place’s neighbors include the DIY Cave, a makerspace at 400 SE Ninth St., that offers studios, classes in 3D printing, welding and more; and Solsk8s, an independent skateboard shop with wood ramps and rails in back where skaters engage in their own form of creativity.

A number of artists make their creations in the blocks near Bright Place, including potter Steven Provence, fiber artist Linda Spring, blacksmith Hunter Dahlberg of Orion Forge, metal fabricator Doug Wagner of ModernFab and jeweler John Paul.

Building a home

For Breidenstein, Dubief and the other nine members of the Bright Place collective, home is a 1930s edifice originally built for wood storage. More recently, the building served as storage for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Baker, when its offices were located next door in the taproom space, and the Bend Circus Center.

“We had been looking for something like this a couple of years,” Breidenstein said. “We’d looked at a bunch of other properties, but nothing had a big outdoor space that we could play with, as well as a big open indoor space, which is what we wanted.”

The 2,600-square-foot building on Ninth Street became available the same week Stuart’s of Bend learned it had to vacate its former home.

“We moved out, and built this space out and filled it within a few months. That was during the worst winter,” Breidenstein said, referring to early months of 2017. The artist painted walls, removed cheap laminate flooring to refinish the concrete that lay beneath, along with other remodeling.

“Everything that you see in there is pretty much stuff that Stuart built,” said Dubief. Since they moved in, she’s spent much of her creative time filling in gaps in the retail side of the gallery, including making smaller items, which sell more readily.

Their ongoing projects around the space keep them plenty busy, including the gorgeous garden, without which, “this would just be a parking lot,” Dubief said. “It’s important to us that this feels welcoming.”

Tending to gardens and the gallery eats away at time to work on their own art: Breidenstein cracks that he’s so occupied with other tasks he doesn’t make art anymore, though his necklaces, earrings and more on sale would argue otherwise.

From the start, they kept a converted school bus parked nearby, serving as a moving pop-up space and more.

“It was our moving van, and then it became our little coffeehouse, breakroom,” said Breidenstein, who with Dubief, is now readying it for its official debut as a coffee shop. Starting next month, they’ll park it in the Mt. Bachelor Motel parking lot on NE Division Street, serving espresso, cold brew and pastries from Brown’s Basics Bakery and Eatery, one of the food carts at 9th Street Village.

Drawing attention

Early media attention helped draw the gallery’s other artists, including landscape painter Julie Blackman. Blackman moved to Bend six years ago from Portland and was working out of her home. She was looking for a studio when she saw a Bulletin article that mentioned 9th Street Village, and she emailed Breidenstein immediately.

“I jumped on that because it’s hard to find studio space in Bend, especially in a collaborative, supportive environment,” she said.

Blackman, who is among just a handful of locals to be juried into the nationally recognized Art in the High Desert festival, now creates her landscapes — calming, richly colored paintings of desert and water scenes — at her easel in a small room off to the right side of Bright Place, engaging with browsers and occasionally being startled by a staring child or two wandering over from the Village’s beer garden.

Other Bright Place members include wildlife artist Christine Elder, who observes and sketches species in their native habitats before returning to the studio to complete pencil, pen and watercolor. There are also leather pieces from Sunny Rising Leather, and “lotions, potions, and other products” made from essential oils by Lotus Naturals.

20-Dollar Art Show

Its October event, the 20-Dollar Art Show, features 2D works from any artist who cares to submit, even the children of gallery members. There were 900 pieces of original art at the 2018 event.

“We sold 470ish pieces the night of the show, and then we sold another couple of hundred after that,” Breidenstein said. “Really, we sold two-thirds of 900 pieces, which is kind of unheard of.”

Despite the sale’s success, Breidenstein and Dubief laugh off the idea of doing it more than one time a year.

“We are actually considering doing a 20-Dollar Craft Show,” Breidenstein said. “Every year, people ask if they can do other things that aren’t two-dimensional art, and we have to say no, and I don’t like to say no to that, because I do non-two-dimensional stuff. We just have to figure out a time of year to do it.”

Brighter future

On the evening of June 20, gallery visitors got to learn about the benefits of chemtrails, the word conspiracy theorists favor for contrails, the white trails left by passing jets. (Note: Conspiracy theorists are not fond of them.) The Chemtrail Positivity Workshop, an ironic excuse to argue over drinks, was one of the many creative ideas hatched by Breidenstein and Dubief.

“We want to do more weird for Bend art, shows, music, night-time events,” Dubief said. “It feels like the art community here is pretty conservative. It would be nice to do something a little bit different.”

“Yeah,” added Breidenstein. “And even kind of wacky stunts. I don’t know if ‘stunts’ is actually a good word.”

Dubief and Breidenstein have come up with a number of ways to keep the shop in the public eye. They ran a well-oiled mayoral campaign last year on behalf of the shop cat, Leonardo F. Bend, garnering press from The Bulletin to the New York Post. (Alas, Leonardo had to concede.)

Breidenstein was hoping for protesters at the Chemtrail Positivity Workshop. Instead, they got some curious onlookers. They’re considering a flat-earth workshop, no doubt an ironic defense of the crackpot theory. Perhaps that will pull in some fact- and art-loving scientists.

Breidenstein, who has a background in retail, said that while locals know the gallery, they tend toward smaller pieces. The challenge now is getting Bend tourists — who tend more toward big-ticket art — to venture eastward.

“I was never into the pressure sales. It’s more about explaining fully — you know, people want a story. Especially tourists. They’re taking home a story,” he said, gesturing toward the surrounding garden and courtyard. “This is already a story. They see the garden. They hang out by a fire pit, or look at the water feature.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0349, djasper@bendbulletin.com

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