There's plenty of depressing news in the local arts scene: stories about galleries stiffing artists, artists being asked to work without pay, dealers overvaluing art to dupe the I.R.S., or even the Houston Arts Alliance commissioning a public work and then changing its mind (though, in a bit of karmic justice, Ed Wilson did win the award for a second time after resubmitting his proposal).
So it's a bit of a pleasant surprise when we can actually report on something good. Archway Gallery, Texas's oldest artist-owned gallery, has kept its doors open for 40 years (while many others have folded) and is not just limping along or in survival mode; it's actually thriving.
“It's fabulous. Last year we had our best year ever,” says artist John Slaby, who has been involved with the gallery for more than 20 years, some of them as gallery director. “It feels great to be successful, reaching out to the community, supporting the Houston community and also the art community.
The formula seems to work. Archway has diversified (it also hold dinners and classes and hosts an annual art competition), its gallery space can be rented for events, and there's an all-hands-on-deck mentality, with the artist/owners taking turns manning the shop and pitching in to make hors d'oeuvres for the monthly openings.
“We're really happy with the way the organization functions,” says Slaby. “It's very democratic. Everybody has one vote; everything is decided by a super-majority. We've really never had any big conflicts.”
Hitting the 40-year mark did not go unnoticed by the city of Houston. On March 29, in the hallowed chambers of City Hall, a ceremony was held proclaiming April 1, 2016 as “Archway Gallery Day.”
The gallery started small, back on April 1, 1976, when it opened for business in a 600-square-foot space at The Jung Center. After a few hops around town – Rice Village, a couple of stops in Montrose – it moved to its existing almost-4,000-square-foot space on Dunlavy in 2008. The faces have changed over the years (110 at last count), with artists entering the family for a while before moving on to the next chapter in their lives.
“I love the people who have been in and out,” says Slaby. “It's fantastic as an artist to be involved with the gallery. I think the people who come through have been very creative; they've given a voice to the community, people who left and started similar organizations in other cities, planting seeds in other cities.”
One of those “seeds” is Jim Adams, who purchased a building in Kansas City about a year and a half ago and has been doing rehab work on the structure; the Bunker Center for the Arts is now open, with studios available and multiple exhibition spaces.
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The gallery's original co-directors, nearly 90-year-old Margaret Scott Bock ("she's amazing; she's a dynamo") and the almost 80-year-old former Archway artist Ann Bellinger Hartley, are still going strong as well. They're co-mounting an exhibit at the gallery on May 7 with experimental and traditional art, titled "Juxtaposition: Comparison & Contrast."
“I think it's important to every community to support their local artists; they provide a voice and the viewpoint to the community itself,” says Slaby. “We're all affected and informed by the events of Houston and its environment, and that affects our work. It could be something like a landscape, a cityscape, people might connect with. It is an intersection of the soul of the society."
Slaby says that we know so much about previous cultures through art; that it's what lasts and persists throughout history. “This is our soul, this is our legacy. This is how we'll be remembered.”
There's a 40th anniversary celebration event on Saturday, April 16, from 5 to 8 p.m., with a talk at 6:30 p.m., 2305 Dunlavy, 713-522-2409, archwaygallery.com.