Art prevails amid the pandemic as several local artists are relocating to Mount Sequoyah this month, after the Fenix Gallery unexpectedly lost its original space in downtown Fayetteville.
The gallery will officially reopen March 26 at the Mount Sequoyah Center with help from community donations and past earnings. The gallery will be a part of an established artists’ retreat on the mountain.
Fenix Fayetteville began as a series of pop-up art shows around the city in 2016, until the gallery landed in a studio space on the Downtown Square. Its founders thought that artists in Northwest Arkansas needed a place to present their work," said Laurie Foster, chair of Fenix Gallery’s Board of Directors.
“There’s lots of artists that live (in Fayetteville), but there’s not a lot of places to show artwork, Foster said.
Chuck Davis, 67, a photographer, has been a part of the Fenix Gallery since its launch.
Davis said the move from downtown is difficult, but Mount Sequoyah has become a well-known hotspot for artists which offers an opportunity for collaborative artistic work.
“I think it’s going to be great, just because of the opportunity to intermix and find points of intersection with other artists,” Davis said. “The greatest artwork that can exist is done in collaboration, not in isolation.”
In early 2020, the artists were forced to close the gallery because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was closed for like four months, until we reopened in July with lots of precautions,” Foster said. “We have several members who are (gallery attendants) who are elderly, and we certainly didn’t want to put anyone in any kind of compromising situation.”
In November, the gallery’s owners lost their lease, Foster said. The landlord was allowing them to stay in their space rent-free, only paying utility bills, but someone offered to pay the full rental price, and he accepted.
Even without a place to gather, the artists “hunkered at home and made artwork,” Foster said. The pandemic has changed the creation and meaning of art, she said.
“I’ve noticed that everything that I’ve produced during this time period has somehow been related (to the pandemic),” Foster said. “I mean, one piece was specifically COVID, but the others have been kind of focused on home or the concept of what home is.”
Roz Waiwaiole, 67, an abstract mixed-media artist, has been an artist her entire life, but joined the Fenix Gallery after moving to Fayetteville in December 2019, she said.
“What I thought I was going to be doing didn’t happen,” Waiwaiole said. “I did very well as an artist in Virginia and was planning on coming here and finding a studio space so I could go ahead and teach again, and none of that panned out.”
Since the pandemic began, Waiwaiole’s day job at Lowe’s has been very demanding, which has made it harder to find time to make art, she said.
“It has been overwhelming, the amount of work,” Waiwaiole said. “And by the time you get home, you are so tired because you are just bombarded by, you know, customers, and working with them, and doing what you need to do.”
However, the artwork that has come out of the pandemic is deeper and more meaningful, Waiwaiole said.
“Because of the situation that everyone is in, it draws that artist to really go inside deep and come out with something,” Waiwaiole said. “It’s a way of having a conversation...with your materials and what you are putting on that canvas or that paper or that sculpture or whatever.”
Despite the pandemic, Foster was confident the gallery would reopen, she said.
“We have really good support from our members, and I think from the community too,” Foster said. “So, I wasn’t concerned that we wouldn’t be able to (open). I just thought there might be a short period of time where we didn’t have a physical space.”
But for the artists, a physical location is not the most important thing, Davis said.
“The greatest engagement with the public has very little to do with four walls or a hanging hook or framing wire or plexiglass,” Davis said. “It has more to do with the moments, impressions, memorable occasions, the gleam in someone’s eye, you know? The chance to interact with them and inspire them…I think Mount Sequoyah is going to give us an opportunity to do more of that, but in fact, we didn’t need a gallery to achieve all of those things.”