Supportive, Artful Collaborations Working in Central Oregon

Since 1959 after an unknown painter left a house to Deschutes County for use as a community painting studio, SageBrushers Art Society has been consistently providing a cooperative home to increase knowledge of skills and principles of the arts for our community.
Imagine the abundance of art this organization has championed over the past nearly sixty years. Welcoming all mediums of art with artists of varying skill levels the SageBrushers’ house offers a place where artists can create at any time, take classes in various media, attend talks by well known artists and … just have fun. The house also serves as a gallery where members can present and sell their work.
The Society is a nonprofit entity and the members are responsible for maintenance on the building and the property and expenses. Sale of works from exhibits helps to support the Society along with membership dues ($50/year) and donations.
That cooperative spirit and the formation of thriving cooperative galleries is alive and well in Central Oregon.
Tumalo Art Co. was started in 2001 by Marta Batha and was housed in Tumalo Junction. She had a vision for an art collective. Eventually Susan Luckey Higdon and Tracy Leagjeld became the principals, forming the nucleus of the restructured gallery and with the collective members moved the gallery first to downtown Bend and then to the Old Mill District in 2009 where the gallery could benefit from pedestrian traffic.
After trying several models for the collective structure, Luckey Higdon and Leagjeld settled on 12-15 artists in the collective as well as other artists in a traditional gallery relationship. The collective artists pay a monthly space rental fee and work at the gallery in return for receiving a higher commission when their artwork sells. This enables the gallery to cover its operating costs, as it continues to build its reputation as a high-quality, artist-run gallery.
During the recession, other area artists saw a gap in availability of venues to exhibit and sell their work. Only five years old, Red Chair Gallery founders decided to fill that void in downtown Bend with a retail storefront offering artists a place to exhibit and sell their work. Red Chair is not actually a co-op, although the four partner owners did use that model as the basis for their business structure. Input from members is valued, says partner and gallery director Dee McBrien-Lee, but all final decisions are made by the partner owners creating a streamlined decision-making process.
Red Chair’s members and partner owners are responsible for all the work at the gallery. There are no paid employees which keeps costs manageable. Dee applauds the way they have created a real family leading to little turnover in artist members.
Artist Midge Thomas, founder and owner of the cooperative Artists’ Gallery Sunriver, remembers participating in an outdoor show and trying to hold down her work from the wind. So in 2011 she opened the Sunriver gallery and says it is thriving beyond her expectations. She is the official owner who handles the business side but they operate as a co-op with all the artists working there two days a month and committees handling various aspects from promotion to art openings.
Midget loves the fact that the artists get involved and it becomes their gallery with not just one person deciding what kind of art they’ll have.
Hood Avenue Art Gallery in Sisters was started just one year ago by seven partners, all accomplished artists. It was set up as a legal partnership with each partner taking a different job in the operations of the gallery: marketing, finance director and office staff, scheduling, the physical gallery direction, membership, events coordination and community relations.
Tina Brockway and Katherine Taylor said they all established the collaborative effort because their vision of an art gallery is a place to be creative, pursuing new ideas without limitations. They wanted an uncluttered venue for their work and a comfortable space for teaching, music and good food as they have a multi-talented group of partners and core members, musicians, great cooks and awesome teachers.
They now use the gallery for small concerts, events and theatre venues and teaching. Having a partnership and a few members helps disperse the risk financially and distributes the staffing of the gallery. The artists are making enough money to make it worthwhile, while still having freedom to create without having to monitor the gallery every day.
The Art Adventure Gallery in Madras was created nearly twenty years ago to capture the breadth and character of local works and bring them to residents and visitors of Central Oregon. It is a cooperative effort of the artists involved and is staffed and managed by volunteers.
A place for learning and inspiration, A6 is also member-based and community-supported non-profit arts organization. However it’s unique in that it offers a view of a 21st-century, multimedia approach to contemporary printmaking and book arts, while preserving and honoring processes from centuries past. The gallery presents regular exhibits and one major educational exhibit on an artist or art form of particular artistic and/or historic significance. Exhibits are often accompanied by art talks, lectures and related workshops.
Creating and operating a gallery is a tremendous amount of work…and risk. Even a small change in the economy can impact sales. These artists have found a way to benefit from working as a team, sharing responsibilities and expenses.
From Tumalo Art Co…..the synergy of being part of a gallery collective helps each of us be more successful than we might be on our own. We believe that art has enlightening and even healing properties and providing a meaningful art experience is an important contribution to our community.

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