When One Store Closes… Local artists create gallery at Northwest Arkansas Mall

When One Store Closes… Local artists create gallery at Northwest Arkansas Mall

When one clothing store closes, an art gallery opens. At least that’s what happened at the Northwest Arkansas Mall.

“The mall very, very generously decided in March to donate space for local artists,” Melissa Milton, an artist herself, says. “The mall representative said, ‘We’re willing to donate the space, but you artists just have to run it yourselves and you pay utilities. But other than that, keep it family friendly.’”

Milton and others worked together to help establish The Art Gallery, a space dedicated to supporting local art, in the former Banana Republic across from Victoria’s Secret in the Fayetteville mall.

“I formed us as a nonprofit,” says Milton, who is a retired attorney. “We got state and federal nonprofit approval, we drafted our bylaws, we got a board of directors and we did it right.” She and the group of artists put out a call for more artists on Facebook. “We still have the signs up telling them how to apply. And it’s really been each according to their ability. We have 46 artists, and our rule is you have to live within 70 miles of Fayetteville.”

The artists showcased in the gallery are mostly new ones who are showing their art in public for the first time. Milton adds that “a few of us are in other galleries, but all this beautiful stuff was in their homes” before being displayed at the mall.

Both established and new artists helped to transform the 7,000-square-foot store into a legitimate gallery with soft lighting, wooden floors and walls and shelves covered with a variety of local art. The artists have also been showing each other the ropes and taking on different roles in establishing The Art Gallery.

“Those of us who have gallery experience had been teaching [the younger artists] how to hang their art and label it and stuff,” Milton explains. “We have a person who’s a woodworker and carpenter, he hung our hanging system because he’s good at that. We have the retired lawyer here, who drafted the artists’ contracts and got all the legal stuff filed. We have a lady with decades of marketing experience, and she and two former and current gallery owners are going to be our marketing committee.

“We have an artist who’s a graphic designer, so she created our logo. We have another artist that prints her own art, so she printed the signs,” and another artist who “knows all about building websites” is building one for the gallery. An artist and teacher is organizing the gallery’s classroom. “So this is a DIY. That’s amazing, but I think it’s quite beautiful,” Milton concludes.

Others have loaned or donated supplies and furniture to help get the DIY gallery up and running.

“A lot of things are borrowed because we have been on a shoestring budget. But we’ve had generous local businesses! We wouldn’t gotten this far without the mall donating the space and several local businesses donating money.

“I feel like it’s a win win for us and the mall,” Milton adds. “It’s giving local artists an opportunity to exhibit who otherwise might not have it. It is paying the utilities on space that the mall was having to pay utilities on just sitting here; it runs up quite a bill to heat and cool. It brings more foot traffic into the mall. We’ve had a lot of people come in and go, ‘Oh, I haven’t been in the mall in years!’”

The Art Gallery is now open weekends with various artists from the collective manning the store.

“We’re the only art gallery that the artists get 100% of their sale proceeds (to my knowledge). Because we are truly nonprofit with the artists each paying a monthly membership of $60,” Milton goes on. “Plus we have no employees; they each volunteer four hours of their time [each month] to staff the gallery. So we tell people who come in, ‘Everyone on staff is an artist. So if you have a question, ask an artist.’ People seem to like that; then they ask questions. The sales have surprised us in a good way. Our first three weekends, we’ve had gross sales of over $2,600.”

They intend to host a grand opening in September. They also hope to have a rotating, monthly display of public school art in the gallery. “We feel like that’s going to bring children into an art gallery who might otherwise not step into one,” Milton says. Right now they are seeking public school art teachers who want to have their students display art in the gallery.

In the back of the gallery, there’s a large space for a classroom where they will have art classes.

“We’ve got a public school art teacher who’s going to be in charge of our art classroom,” Milton says. Currently they have several art supplies that were lent to the gallery by other artists or donated.

“We’re going to offer free and low cost art classes to the public. As soon as we raise enough funds, we want them all to be free,” Milton says. “These classes will be for all ages — children, senior citizens — everybody. … We would like to start classes as soon as next month, but it’s really going to depend on how soon can we raise donated funds for classes.”

Right now, Milton and the other artists are enjoying the spoils of their labor and overcoming naysayers.

“There were other artists in the art community saying, ‘You don’t want to do that. It’s going to look like a flea market,” Milton laughs. She’s quite delighted with the space.

“I know I’m gushing, but I’m just so proud and happy that this happened.”



The Art Gallery at NWA Mall

WHAT — A new art gallery established and operated entirely by local artists

WHEN — 4-8 p.m. Friday, noon to 8 p.m. Saturday & 1-5 p.m. Sunday

WHERE — Across from Victoria’s Secret in the former Banana Republic store at the Northwest Arkansas Mall in Fayetteville

COST — Free; art is for sale

INFO — Email melissamiltonart@aol.com

FYI — A monthly art reception with light refreshments happens on the second Sunday of each month from 1-5 p.m.



On Show

Artists whose work is currently on show at The Art Gallery at Northwest Arkansas Mall include James Arnold, Margery Shore, Janet Cross, Mary Curtis, Katelynn Barker, Sepastian Bocanegra, Crystal Brown Ratliff, Lennia Daulton, Terry Dushan, Emily Frame, Erica Frame, Randy French, Charlotte Glick, Jordan Greene, Brooke Groover, Kyle Hale, Megan Rose Hiers, Jay Hinely, Ryan Howard, Susan Idlet, Gary Johnson, Debra Koertge, Detlef Koertge, Beana Laden, Darlene McVay, Melissa Milton, Thea Morrill, Reed Novotny, Ashlynn Patrick, Mike Rice, Lowell Ridings, Annika Ringle, Kim Seaberg, Raegan Sikes, Randi Sparks, Diane Stinebaugh, Melissa Swan, Pat Sweeden, Jeremy TenHaken, Kayla Thompson (Rhoads), Jaci Tucker, Molly Van Roekel, Shelli Palazzi, Stefani Christianson, Tana Washington, Trish Whitsell, Madison Woods and Rin Wynters.

Categories: Galleries