In today’s limping economy, collecting art may not be the highest priority on your list. Nonetheless, artists are feeling the crunch as well—while making a living in that arena is notoriously tough to begin with. Molly Hargarten joined the new artist collective pARTiculars last summer, and has witnessed first hand that the old adage is true: there is strength in numbers. Here, Molly talks about this unique community of 21 creators nestled into Old Town Lafayette.
French Davis: Tell me about how pARTiculars came to be—from concept to execution.
Molly Hargarten: Nancy West, the owner of our building, started it. The building was vacant and she and the city wanted to get a business in there. Nancy had always thought an art gallery would be perfect for Lafayette so she contacted a few artists that she knew and passed on the idea…initially, the idea spread by word of mouth. Nancy was instrumental in getting this entire enterprise off the ground. She got us organized, wrote our guidelines book, took meeting minutes, made contacts in the community for us, gave us a sign, furniture, packaging material, office supplies, advice on the retail business…you name it, Nancy did it for us. We owe her a great deal.
The city of Lafayette deserves credit for the help they gave us as well. They are supplementing our rent to Nancy every month to support our education program. Many of our artists teach classes in pARTiculars. We offer classes for both kids and adults. The classes range from a one-time workshop to a weekly series. Our classes include watercolor, oil painting, drawing, bookbinding, fused glass pendants, kids mobiles, photography, mono-prints, card making and beaded jewelry bracelets to name a few. There are class schedules available at the store and on our website.
During the same time period, many of the artists were investing huge amounts of sweat equity in the store. People were painting the walls, cleaning the floors, building shelves, planting flowers, you name it, we did it. We all helped as much as we could. We opened quietly on Aug. 1 with two artists working and sales of about $250 for the first two days…and that wasn’t family and friends buying. We were thrilled. You should have seen the emails flying between us that day! “How are things going?” “Have we sold anything yet?” “Are people coming into the store?” “What are they saying?”
FD: There are 21 artists involved. Tell me about some of them and why this pARTicular group (er, no pun intended) of artists are the ones involved.
MH: Well, this pARTicular group of artists is very special and talented. The initial group was formed by word of mouth and people were accepted into it without having to be juried and because someone knew someone that did something. As we approached our full complement of artists, we started to jury artists—we didn’t want to duplicate the mediums that we had—and ended up with a beautiful array of art. We have painters including watercolor, oil and acrylic; several jewelry makers (beads and silver); purses, bags and scarves made from traditional African textiles; a photographer that has devised his own way of mounting images on transparent glass (beautiful hanging in the window); lovely and unique pottery, ceramic sculpture of whimsical animals; award-winning quilters; hand-bound books; and fused glass plus much more.
FD: Why 21? Not 20 or 22?
MH: Why not? It all started with rent. The owner/artists pay a small amount of rent each month. We took the rent we owed Nancy, subtracted the amount the city is contributing, decided on a reasonable amount an artist might pay and divided the two—thus coming up with 20. There was a special case where a founding artist couldn’t join as a member right away so we allowed her to join in October, making it 21.
FD: Are you accepting more artists into the collective? If so, how does an interested party get involved? If not, why?
MH: We are always interested in new and unique art. We aren’t accepting members right now but we are accepting consigning artists. The difference is, members get a larger commission, work 12 hours a month, pay rent and make policy decisions. Consignors receive a smaller commission but don’t have any of the other responsibilities.
Also, we have a classroom space where interested artists can teach. There would be a commission split and a co-op member would have to be on the premises. Interested artists can call us or find an application on our website.
FD: Saying the economy’s in a downturn is a bit of an understatement, and it’s not like art gets added to the household budget along with food and gasoline. How does pARTiculars survive until things turn around?
MH: We share the expense of the rent…we also have lots of events that bring folks into Lafayette and the store. We have participated in the Peach Festival, had a grand opening party, First Friday Art Walk—these have been successful events. Also, we are working hard to get the word out so everyone knows that we are here. I have submitted our info to every calendar list/free advertising venue that I can think of. We don’t have a huge budget for advertising so we have to be creative—right up our alley.
In addition, we offer art at a variety of prices. We have art ranging from $3 to original paintings up to $1,000. Something for everyone. We have done our research and know that much of sales are in the $50 and under range, so we provide those choices for our shoppers.
FD: What makes pARTiculars unique from other collectives?
MH: We start each meeting by holding hands and singing Kum Ba Yah…just kidding. The help and support that we have received from the community, the dedication of the artists and the fact that we got this up and running in seven weeks!
We are a very dedicated bunch and have our hearts in the right places. Whenever there is something to be done for the store, there is always someone stepping up to help. Also, the community loves us. There is not one day that goes by that a customer doesn’t say how happy they are that we are in Lafayette. People have been great and so appreciative.
FD: What kinds of events can we expect to see coming from pARTiculars?
MH: pARTiculars was on the cutting edge of customer service by providing the “Elf Assistance Program” for the holiday season. We had EAP cards scattered around the shop. When a customer spotted an item that they would like to add to their Christmas list, all they had to do is complete the card, hand it to us and we called the “designated shopper,” a.k.a. their husbands, listed on the card. If the designated shopper chose to, they paid for the item over the phone with a credit card and we held it until they came in to pick it up. We are also planning a Valentine’s Day event the weekend before Valentine’s Day. Of course, we will have the “Cupid Assistance Program” at that time to help romantic shoppers find just the right gift. Once again, there will be music, refreshments and plenty of wonderful art to enjoy. More details will be available as the day approaches.
There is talk about doing more First Friday Art Walks. pARTiculars was full of people and so was the entire downtown area. Many of the local business owners came in after that event and said that their business was booming that night as well. Everyone benefits.
FD: What’s the overall art scene like in Lafayette? How does pARTiculars make its impact felt the most?
MH: In addition to the excitement in Lafayette, people from Broomfield, Erie and other outlying communities have been thrilled that we are here. They now have a place to shop that is closer to home. I have heard many people say that are grateful that they don’t have to drive into Boulder for quality art. Also, the city is very supportive of art and has three volunteer organizations that support and promote art: Lafayette Cultural Arts Commission, Lafayette Art Center and Project YES. Lafayette is an up and coming place for art.
pARTiculars, 401 S. Public Road, Lafayette, 720.890.7888