15 Dec INSIDE THE ARTERY
You can’t go too far in downtown Rock Island without seeing The ARTery’s Carolyn Krueger at an arts event or finding out that she has helped create a scene that radiates outward from the quaint gallery space located at 1629 2nd Avenue. Although many artists already know her and The ARTery quite well, we caught up with her to find out more about the arts gallery, talent incubator, and robust network that continues to thrive ten years later.
Can you tell us about your background, how the ARTery got started and your partnership with MidCoast?
In December of 2008, I was already working for MidCoast Fine Arts as a Gallery Director. Our Executive Director at the time, Dean Schroeder, asked me if I was interested in opening my own gallery. Another gallery had to pull out of their partnership, so the front space would be empty.
Even though I was working three other jobs, I figured I could fill the space with art and staff it with volunteers. I called everyone I could think of and set up a public meeting in the empty gallery. We set up the gallery for artists, by artists and we opened our doors in February of 2009.
And how did you decide that a storefront was needed?
We’re a little backwards in that sense because the storefront was there, but it needed a gallery! I also opened The ARTery at Bucktown in 2009, but I found out quickly that I preferred the window front in downtown Rock Island, and just focused on that space.
What kind of artists do you exhibit and can you elaborate on that process?
We have a little bit of everything! All skill levels are welcome. We have a lot of first time exhibitors at The ARTery. We make it really easy to get a little space to show and sell; we do that on purpose because we know how intimidating galleries can be to beginners.
While we happily fill that role for new artists, we have many veterans of the art scene, as well. Even former Mayor, Mark Schweibert, has exhibited with us!
I’ve also made friends with lots of touring art vendors over the years; many of them find a home for their work during the winter months in our gallery. We’re very flexible with our rental times, so artists can come and go as they see fit for their schedules.
Is there anything that makes the ARTery unique compared to other venues in the area or others that you have seen?
The ARTery was the first gallery in the area with the no-commission, rent-based business model. I’ve seen many galleries suffer during months of low sales that try to pay their bills based on taking a commission from sales. Most artists appreciate the steady rates (which are very affordable) and patrons love the fact that their money is going right to the creator of the art they purchase.
We’re also staffed by artist volunteers who earn their rent by keeping the store open. I couldn’t do it without them! Some of the volunteers have been with me since the very beginning; Heat Jones, Gary Burlingame, Vince Thomas and Ethan Leader have all been working and showing with me for almost a decade.
Our partnership with MidCoast Fine Arts is crucial. You get two galleries in one stop. We have juried and curated two month rotating exhibits in Gallery West along with the constantly changing space in The ARTery. There’s always something new!
Why has the no-commission policy been such a success in attracting artists to the ARTery?
Artists can choose how much space and what type of wall to best display their work. I love telling a new artist, “This is YOUR wall!”
Our willingness to be flexible and creative with displays is nurturing to all artistic individuals. Because we rent month-by-month, we relieve the pressure of commitment and make it easy for new and returning artists to rent a little space at any time and for as long as they like. Artists understand that their rent is our gallery’s only income; we truly are a gallery for artists, by artists.
Has there been anyone that has helped make this a success along the way?
My steady volunteers and my mom have been invaluable assets over the years. If it weren’t for Dean Schroeder, MidCoast Fine Arts and The ARTery would not exist… in fact, many QC art events and spaces would never have happened! I’m proud to call him “my old boss” and my friend. He saw my potential before I did, and encouraged me to tap into it.
How has owning/managing a business like this evolved over time and where do you see it going in the future?
I used to have a volunteer help me with bookkeeping and a volunteer coordinator, but these days I take care of everything myself. It’s a labor of love keeping the gallery going. I’ve learned to ask for help when I need it, because people always surprise me with their generosity. Since I’m a glorified volunteer myself (I only get paid for the art I sell), I know the value of donated time and talents. The other side of that coin is that there will always be nay-sayers. Anyone who criticizes without being willing to put in the effort to make it better is not worth my time. Our gallery is truly a reflection of our community, and I’m very proud of that. Obviously, I would love to welcome some new artists and see even more support from patrons in the future. Shopping local is so important to small businesses like The ARTery.
How can we as the community support the arts in Rock Island?
Go to art events and BUY LOCAL! The Skeleton Key, Rozz Tox, Quad City Arts, The ARTery and other local galleries always have changing exhibits and fun stuff happening. Check out the Rock Island Artists’ Market during the summer too. Getting involved by volunteering is always appreciated!
1629 2nd Avenue
Rock Island, IL 61201