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The end of an era

Wren Wertin
Special to the DailyThe Plaza Gallery has represented more than 30 artists during the past five years. The local artists' co-op is closing its doors Sunday, to make room for Verbatim Booksellers.
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After a five year run, it’s last call for art at the Plaza Gallery in Vail. The gallery, essentially an artists’ co-op with a patron, is closing its doors. The artists are hosting a farewell party today, 6-8 p.m., and the gallery will be open through Sunday evening.

“I feel that change is a good thing,” said Susan Mackin Dolan, often considered the backbone of the gallery. “Some of us who have been doing all the work – you know who you are! – are looking forward to a little break. We have some interest and support to move the co-op to another location and that may or may not happen.”

The space has been rented to Verbatim Booksellers. The Lionshead bookstore is moving into Vail Village with a new owner, Robert Aiken, at the helm.

It’s a bittersweet moment for most of the artists. Though the general tone is one of gratitude to Luc and Liz Meyer, who own the space and picked up the tab for the past five years, many feel a little lost.

“I am sad,” exclaimed Celine Krueger, whose been there since the beginning. “I feel Luc and Liz shared a good solid time with us at the gallery. We will look for new horizons as a group or as individuals.”

“We were fortunate in having a patron who made it possible for artists throughout the valley to show their work,” said Mackin Dolan. “Although I am sure co-ops exist elsewhere, it seemed unique to this environment, and visitors and locals alike seemed delighted to find such a spot.”-

“I think that it is a real shame that Vail can’t support a local’s gallery,” said Nicole Magistro, a member of the Plaza crew since 2002. “Anytime it was made known to a visitor that the gallery was a local’s co-op they seemed excited and interested to know what Vail’s artists produced. Some visitors to Vail would actually search the Village to find local art work. I am very disappointed to see the Plaza close.”

The gallery snowballed from a suggestion made by Liz’s mother, Liza Wyett, an artist herself who knew many of the local artists.

“The artists needed a home, and she was the one who suggested it,” said Luc. “There’s some pretty talented people in this community, but they never had a gallery. Before, they had to go to markets.”

Luc called Krueger, who called Joan Norris, who called Mackin Dolan. The idea of a co-op was born, and they worked with Luc to design the gallery with white walls, lights and a work room. Other details like insurance, fax and credit card machines and post cards were tended to.

The Meyers paid the rent, and in turn they made a commission off of each piece of art sold. They also placed a few pieces from their own collection in the gallery.

“Money was never the motivation for me,” said Luc. “I have always rather not actually known what we made there, because we didn’t make a fortune on that. I wanted to do it.”

The artists had to run the gallery. As a group, they required everyone showing in the gallery to work a certain number of hours each month.

“We have had over 30 different artists over the years averaging around 15 artists at any one time,” said Mackin Dolan. “I started bringing in temporary outside shows to the gallery about two years ago to generate more interest in Plaza and also for my own intellectual stimulation.”

In addition to Mackin Dolan, Norris, Krueger, Helen Gillespie and Ann Loper are all original artists who have been there the whole five years.

“The main challenge was keeping enough professional people in our group who were producing quality art work and contributing an equal amount of energy to run the gallery,” said Mackin Dolan. “The other challenge of course was financial. After 9/11 we saw a big drop in revenue and the commissions we were paying to the gallery dropped as well. I assume if the gallery was more of a financial success we would not be losing the space to the bookstore.”

For Luc, renting the space to Verbatim was an easy decision.

“I felt like I did it for five years and was very generous with them,” he said. “There was a point that I didn’t want to pay any more electricity bills and condo fees and property taxes, and Liz had to do all the bookkeeping. I was tired of babysitting.”

A self-declared community-minded person, one of his biggest irritations is walking through Vail and seeing empty windows, empty spaces. For the past 32 years, he’s been the chef-proprietor of The Left Bank, a French restaurant with a long-standing reputation for fine food and service. In all that time, he’s only missed work for health reasons, and that wasn’t often. His wife, Liz, took five days off to have a baby, he said, and that was it.

“I didn’t want to lose Verbatim,” he said. “It’s a lot more important to have a bookstore than another t-shirt shop. I think I’m a little more community-minded than most landlords who just want you to pay the rent.

It wasn’t a hard decision, because I felt like I was helping with the community.”

He sees Verbatim as a place people can poke around in any time, either in the daytime between ski runs or in the evening while they’re waiting for a table at a restaurant.

Though the gallery is closing, it’s not closed. The public still has one last weekend to experience the co-op.

“If you always wanted to visit but have never made it to the Plaza Gallery, this is your big chance,” said Mackin Dolan. “A lot of the art work will be discounted. We will be open through Sunday.”

“It has been a great experience,” said Krueger. “A time to develop a Vail art showcase and a community of local artists. Every moment was memorable. … The inspiration to do new art, the encouragement, the laughs, the disappointments – all were good.”

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555, ext. 618.


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