Sisters Gallery Moves, Expands & Reinvents
Clearwater Gallery owners Dan and Julia Rickards have accomplished a feat most would fear to ever attempt… moving, expanding and reinventing themselves in an economy barely crawling along… and they’re ecstatic.
Last week marked the opening of the new Clearwater Gallery and The Open Door wine bar in downtown Sisters, a hybrid venture pairing their love of fine art and gathering with friends and clients. The bar and bistro are integrated into a freshly remodeled gallery and includes a landscaped courtyard patio serving as an entertainment venue and artists’ reception area.
It’s all a brave and bold move that defies more conservative tactics to battle with less prosperous times, but one that just may pay off handsomely.
“What was first going to be a space for outdoor yard art has now become a whole second dining experience zone,” said Dan, pausing to wave hello to guests. “There’ll be artist workshops, live music, outdoor movies and we’ll even have the Eugene Opera Company coming in. It’s meant to be atmospheric and a different place where people want to hang out and relax.”
The family’s former location on Cascade Avenue served as a gallery and studio home for Rickards’ landscape paintings and hundreds of other artists represented over the past decade. The exciting new spot on West Hood Ave. opened for business July 11 to great enthusiasm and praise.
“We’re trying to stand out a bit and do something innovative. I’ve seen big galleries that had a little wine bar and big wine bars that have a little artwork hanging, but I wanted to take both entities and bring them together with forethought. I thought if we were going to do a wine bar with food then let’s do it right and have events and attract people. In this economy nobody needs a piece of artwork right now. They’re going to buy art because of friends or relationships you have with the artists. People come in for an immersive, inspiring experience and that’s what we want to give them.”
The Rickards feel the music and the workshops are important because it gives people something to do while admiring the art and meeting with new artists and observing painters in residence. That makes it all a unique and multi-faceted enterprise that defies more traditional, conservative models.
“We in the art world have been impacted hugely for several reasons,” he explained. “People don’t have the disposable income they used to and the decline in the housing market severely reduces the need to purchase artwork to fill those bare new walls. Nobody is redecorating or having the extra equity to furnish their house with art. Serious collectors do still collect but even they’ve pulled back.”
Not content to simply keep limping along with the economy and waiting for the next person to walk in the door, the Rickards began formulating an aggressive plan to remodel a historic home into an oasis of beauty, style and harmony.
“It’s not all just about buying art. People still want to get out and visit and view new pieces and meet artists and be energized by it. I sometimes forget what it means to Central Oregon people, having those strong connections to the landscape and the artists who are similarly moved by it.”
Looking out the windows, the immediate allure of place and location are profoundly felt.
“We have such an amazing, gorgeous setting here and that isn’t necessarily enough but it’s an important piece of the puzzle, “said Dan. “Right now my first goal is to finish this project. The outside artist studios aren’t completed yet and just getting our feet on the ground when we want to transition to a music event or special movie night will be nice. I mean, we’re opening on Quilt Show weekend and we wouldn’t have done that on purpose but here it is and we’ll make it work.”
Though somewhat frazzled and lacking sleep, the Rickards are looking forward to a fantastic summer.
“Customer service and relationships are our number one thing. I believe strongly in value with art purchases and eating out. Just because someone can afford a Ferrari doesn’t mean they want to overpay for a Ford. We’ll still have our custom framing shop together for the first time with the gallery under one roof. We give a full pour on a glass of wine and good food portions. In the end it’s only a couple bucks difference but people remember and appreciate those tiny things. When times are tough any little bit helps.”
Good economy or bad, none of this business transformation would have come to fruition without the backing of the Sisters community.
“The support we’ve had has been amazing, people thanking us for offering something new and taking a huge chance in this stagnating economy,” he said. “And it’s nice to have the encouragement because that really expresses what people felt when they first heard of our dream. It’s a creative canvas with walls instead of paint but it took a lot of help to bring it all into reality.”
Clearwater Art Gallery, 303 West Hood, www.theclearwatergallery.com. 541-549-4994.