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One year ago this month, the trio of artist and arts administrator Elisheba Johnson; poet, curator and artist Yonnas Getahun; and Vermillion Gallery founder Diana Adams launched a project to encourage the culture of art collecting in Seattle. They chartered a 15-person party bus, stocked it with champagne and packed it with art aficionados and the art-collecting curious who paid $25 apiece for the ride. The bus wound its way around the Capitol Hill Art Walk, stopping at galleries and artist studios on the way, pointing patrons to affordable art. The mantra for the night, named Collect Seattle: “I am an art collector.” Since then, Collect has expanded to include art walks in SLU, Pioneer Square, Downtown and the Central District.
To mark its first anniversary, Thursday night Collect’s founders hosted a special edition of the tour. It began at Laurie Le Clair’s solo show at Vermillion and continued with a stop at the Northwest African American Museum, where attendees viewed Debora Moore’s Glass Orchidarium, among other exhibits. The evening finished with a visit to the studio of artist, writer and speaker Barbara Earl Thomas. At each stop along the way, chef Tarik Abdullah cooked patrons small dishes tailored to the theme of each show.
Last night a few of Collect’s team members (Lorrie Cardoso and Elizabeth Hunter-Keller recently came on-board) took a moment to reflect on the success of the last year.
Has your strategy changed over the past year?
Yonnas Getahun: We continue to explore how pivotal that first art purchase can be, and in this way we’ve become ambassadors to a good percentage of our clients that are new to Seattle. Our event becomes a show first instead of a hard sell, with the ultimate mission of showing the thriving art culture there is in Seattle. We try to connect our patrons with the people who are central to the Seattle art scene so we can make it easier to eventually take the art home.
Has the format changed?
Liz Hunter-Keller: The format has stayed virtually the same since day one, with the exception of some special events. We were cultural partners at the Seattle Art Fair, offering all-day shuttle service to satellite art events and taking people from the Fair up to Capitol Hill for some evening gallery visits.
How do you plan the route each month and choose the stops along the way?
Liz Hunter-Keller: We divide and conquer. Usually one of us will curate each month, choosing the bulk of the stops, but we all offer ideas. Some of us are more on top of the current Seattle art scene and can offer up smaller or temporary art events to visit. We all pay into the cost of the event, whether buying champagne, Facebook ads or food, and we all try to come to each event and ride along or help set up and takedown. We try to visit different locations each time but have revisited some galleries based on their shows, accommodation or proximity to other stops.
Do people actually buy art?
Lorrie Cardoso: Yes! Several people have purchased art, jewelry, books or other items made by local artists and I always wish that I had a cowbell or a gong to mark the occassion! We appreciate that the tour stops are a brief introduction to the art and that the decision to purchase art can be a long-term process. We are discussing options for collectors to receive discounts in the future by showing that they visited a gallery as part of a Collect tour.
What are some of the highlights of the past year?
Lorrie Cardoso: There have been so many it’s hard to choose! Two come to mind: The first is the partnership that Collect has developed with SAM Gallery, and specifically manager Jody Bento. Jody is one of Collect’s biggest supporters and takes the time during busy art walk nights to talk with our collectors. This has been very rewarding for us because we know that we can guarantee a great experience for our Collectors where they can see art made by local artists, attend a mini tour of the gallery, and meet the artists! Other strong supporters include Ghost Gallery and Calypte.
The second is a studio visit with artist Sophia Wheelwright, located at Equinox studios. This was a stop on the first tour that I curated with Collect. Sophia has a sculpture made of aluminum mesh that takes up nearly three-quarters of her studio. It reminds me of clouds and it’s fun to interact with. Sophia invited a busload of collectors into her studio the day before she was leaving the country to work on a project.
Liz Johnson: On one Collect, artist Liz Tran was on the bus and when we got to SAM gallery she was able to tell us about her process. Going to Tariqa Waters’ studio [Martyr Sauce] was special and she was a fun and memorable host. Also, in our first month we picked up comedian Emmett Montgomery and his dog at Ghost Gallery.
Photos by Bruce Clayton Tom