Downtown gallery evolving into hub for local artists
July 14, 2013 3:00 AM
by SAM KUSIC
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The chalk drawing in front of Brian Jones’ art gallery depicts a burning birthday candle, just one, signifying the Indiana business’ one-year anniversary.

If he could blow it out and make a wish, it likely would be to turn a profit.

“We’re not in the black,” Jones said.

And, he allows, it might be at least two more years before The Artists Hand Gallery & Espresso Bar and its 15 investors realize any sort of return, if they ever do.

Nevertheless, Jones is positive about the gallery’s future, judging by the number of people who have walked through the front door for coffee, for art, or just for the ambience of the place, which hasn’t gone unnoticed by the people who live here.

“There’s a whole slew of people that use that space for a myriad of things,” said Josh Rosenberger, president of Downtown Indiana Inc. “It is a welcome addition to the town.”

So despite whatever its balance sheet may show, the Philadelphia Street gallery, one year in, has become a popular and prominent downtown destination and a hub for local art and artists. That’s just the thing Jones said he had hoped for when he began toying with the idea of opening it a few years ago.

“We’ve really brought people together over the subjects of beauty and art and the subjects of the art,” said Jones, who also is Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s theater and dance department chairman.

To celebrate its anniversary, the gallery on Friday hosted a performance by renowned Pittsburgh blues guitarist Ernie Hawkins and formally opened a new exhibit — watercolors by painter Bill Perry.

He is one of the 100 or so artists who Jones estimates are in the area. Of those, Jones said he has signed more than 60 of them to show their work in the gallery. He’d like to have more, if he could.

“Already we have as many artists as we can support bringing us work to sell,” he said. “We’ve looked at some really fine work and had to turn people away because we only have so much space. I’d love it for a few of those people to get together and form an artists’ cooperative and open another and another and another until we have four or five little galleries in town. “

After all, there appears to be room for them, he said: “I don’t know that we’ve saturated the market.”

Saturated or not, that there is now a marketplace for local art is a boon for those who are making it, said Michael Hood, dean of IUP’s College of Fine Arts. Up until now, he said, local patronage of local artists has been limited to the occasional corporate purchase or singular annual events.

The gallery changes that, he said.

“For me, I see it buttressing what is a very ambitious arts community and one that deserves to be seen.”

And many have seen, Jones said. And sometimes liked — more than 700 pieces of art were sold during the gallery’s first year, he said.

In addition, it organized 36 arts classes and hosted four community events, all providing an opportunity for the public to connect with artists and their work.

“The exposure is the nicest thing,” said Ken Vinton, a retired art teacher who currently has some of his paintings hanging in the gallery.

And by exposure, he means not only to potential buyers, but other artists who come to the gallery to check out the work of their peers, trade techniques and find inspiration.

Jones said that’s been one of the unanticipated outcomes of the gallery’s opening — the creation of a commons for artists.

He recalled one local artist who had grown weary of painting in part because he didn’t have an outlet for his work. But, Jones said, he found inspiration and an audience through the gallery.

“Now he’s painting like crazy. He’s one of our leading sellers.”

PHOTO: Owner Brian Jones and guitarist Ernie Hawkins, left, helped to celebrate the one-year anniversary of The Artists Hand on Friday.

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