Over the past 25 years a core group of committed art lovers have helped to transform a sleepy, western skiing village into a thriving artistic community.
Founded in the summer of 1981, the Sun Valley Gallery Association has positioned itself at the center of the Wood River Valley's art scene. With a mission to promote an understanding of, and a passion for, the visual arts, the Association actively supports arts in our community and has been instrumental in turning Sun Valley into a cultural hub of both Idaho and the West.
The Association will celebrate its 25th anniversary this weekend with the inaugural Sun Valley Visual Arts Forum.
Founding members of the organization, who currently have art galleries in the valley, are Gail Severn, of Gail Severn Gallery, Barbi Reed, of Anne Reed Gallery, The Sun Valley Center for the Arts and Kneedland Gallery.
Inspired by thriving arts scenes created by similar associations in metropolises across the country, they came together in the early eighties. "We talked about the positive aspects that might come from a group of like-minded people pooling their ideas and resources," said Severn. "The key element was the idea of having our openings all on the same night so people could have a walk or a stroll."
And so was born Gallery Walk. These lively, early evening strolls through downtown Ketchum's art scene now encompass more than 30 establishments, ranging from art galleries to coffee shops and retail stores. Scheduled by the Association nine times a year, the walks have become so popular that many people time their visits to the valley around them.
They were not, however, an immediate success. "On the night of the first Gallery Walk," said Reed, "Gail and I stood in our doorways with a glass of wine in hand and staring at each other, hoping someone would come by—it took a while to get going."
"Twenty five years ago it wasn't uncommon to only have 35 people at an opening. Now it's not uncommon to have 800 to 900," said Severn. "It (Gallery Walk) has become an event, on several levels. One, to enjoy the art—not only to buy, but to use us as museums where people can see art well displayed and enjoy it but not necessarily purchase. It's also a wonderful time to see your friends and catch up with visitors from out-of-town. It has become a very community-minded event for everyone."
Very quickly other retail establishments in the valley cottoned on to this excellent marketing tool.
"We were never discouraging about other establishments joining in," said Reed. "Our bylaws have strict guidelines about who can become a member (of the Association), but we have never discouraged other galleries or retail stores from jumping on our bandwagon. All we want is to be recognized, as members, as being distinct from the other galleries because of the parameters of memberships."
Criteria for membership include hanging a totally new exhibition for each walk and being, first and foremost, an art gallery (as opposed to a gift shop with art, or a coffee shop with art, or a wine bar with art). The galleries also have to have consistent opening hours, continued Reed, and not be primarily a dealer with only a semi-functioning art gallery.
"The quality of the art here has really set us apart from other resort areas," said Minette Broschofsky of Broschofsky Galleries, a 19-year member of the Association. "It has really established another reason to come here, other than the sport. Sometimes it's even the primary reason."
Over the past 25 years, beyond the huge success of the Gallery Walks, the core purpose of the Association has become the support they provide to each other.
"The idea was to be able to share the positive elements of our industry, be able to help each other out," said Severn. "Everything from exchanging details on the best shippers, to where we buy our bubble wrap from."
"This (Association's) collective effort of organizing Gallery Walks, in addition to an ongoing sharing of knowledge and expense in operational needs, working together on community-focused events, and helping to arrange specialized gallery tours benefits individual galleries, the entire organization and the community," said five-year member Robin Reiners. "And it is a big part in why my husband, Michael, and I chose this area to open Gallery DeNovo."
There's a core group that has known each other for years.
"It's really nice to have that camaraderie," said Broschofsky. "It's very supportive, both business-wise and personally."
Sun Valley Gallery Association members
Sun Valley Center for the Arts (35 years) 191 Fifth Street East
Gail Severn (29 years) 400 First Avenue North
Anne Reed (25 years) 391 First Avenue North
Kneeland Gallery (25 years) 271 First Avenue North
Broschofsky Galleries (19 years) 360 East Avenue
Friesen Gallery (20 years) Sun Valley Road at First Avenue
Frederic Boloix Fine Arts (5 years) Sun Valley Road at First Avenue North, Suite 203
Gallery DeNovo (5 years) Sun Valley Road at First Avenue North