In the winter of 1986, a small group of inspired and enterprising coastal artists realized a dream: to create a showroom and retail space for locally-made art. Our first member artists were Diane Larson, Nancy Milano, Steve Larkin, Marty Bird, Nansee New, Leslie Campbell, Alison Gardner, and Jack Sears (the person credited with having the idea for the gallery) and the name chosen for our new gallery was Northcoast Artists: A Cooperative Gallery.
At a time when logging and fishing were still the main industries in this area, the Northcoast Artists Gallery was the first cooperative artists’ gallery in Fort Bragg and led the way for several excellent cooperative galleries that you will find here today.
Our doors opened in the middle of a huge rain storm on Valentine’s Day, 1986 at our first location in the Barracks Mall on Franklin Street. It was just two years before we outgrew the tiny space on Franklin, and when the “Zipper” clothing store became available for rent, the group decided to take a leap of faith. We had to more than double our membership to make it work financially, so we put out the call to other local artists. The response from the artist community was enthusiastic and, after about a month of interviewing prospective new members, we became the Northcoast Artists Gallery at the present location on Main Street.
The Northcoast Artists Gallery, a true cooperative, is owned, managed, and staffed by our membership of working artists, whose spirit and enthusiasm is evident in ongoing displays of our current work in the gallery. Throughout the year, a portion of the gallery is dedicated to month-long feature exhibits, ranging from solo shows highlighting individual members’ work, to eclectic, invitational group shows.
If you ask any artist member of the cooperative why they enjoy being part of the gallery, you will often hear the same response: “community.” The life of an artist is not an easy one, especially in tough economic times. Every artist has an inner drive and a need to express themselves in their work. But as the artist creates, a lot of other thoughts come up: “How will the work be received? Does it stand on its own? Have I done my best? How does it compare with others’ work?” Through it all, the artists at Northcoast Artists are here for each other with support and friendship.
The Gallery also supports the larger community of artists who live and work here in Mendocino County with a yearly Friends Show where local artists are invited to show their work, and both locals and visitors have the opportunity to see and meet these artists.
The world is a very different place today than it was in 1986, and the Gallery has changed accordingly, staying true to its roots. We have grown from a small handful of potters to a multi-media gallery with 20 full-time members working in photography, glass, woodworking, jewelry, painting, sculpture, textiles and printmaking.
Come in and introduce yourself the next time you are in town. One of us will be here and we’d love to meet you.