Updated: Jan 21
Curator Keeli Crewe of Area 61 Gallery shares how their first year at their new location went.
In December of 2019, Area 61 Gallery opened its doors again to the Chattanooga community. The gallery curated by Keeli Crewe is unique as it features exclusively local artist and had just moved to a new location right next door to the Tivoli. The new location and new connections held a lot of promise for the gallery and Keeli was ecstatic to see where 2020 would take it.
It took two years for Area 61 to find and get set into their new location and it seemed like the perfect spot. With the Tivoli next door, Sleepyhead a few steps away, and all of West Village, Downtown, and the City Center within their reach, it really feels like they were at the cultural heart of Chattanooga.
From December to February Area 61 got a taste of what the new location had to offer. A big impact that it quickly made was the effect of its weekly artist's showcases. Local artists like Robert Schoolfield, Maggie Vandewalle, Nadine Koski, and many more were able to show off large collections of their work to community members. This helped to give awareness not just to the showcased artists and Area 61, but to the art community as a whole.
When the pandemic hit in March, Keeli closed the gallery until May when she was given guidelines on how to operate Area 61 safely. Operating an art gallery during the time of Covid-19 has been far from easy and Keeli says that she has seen a hard decline financially.
“Local art sales and tourism are heavily linked,” Keeli said. “Approximately 80% of our sales are from visiting guests, and the coronavirus devastated the local travel industry.”
Along with losing sales, Keeli also now faced financial struggles relating to her inability to file for artists' relief funds due to their status as a business, not an individual artist. This compounded with them now having to find proper PPE and sanitation gear to keep the gallery clean and safe at the same time as large local businesses during a huge supply shortage.
Area 61 is rebounding though as tourism and travel to Chattanooga has resumed, though at a smaller scale. They were especially helped by the Chattanooga Tourism Company auctions and weekly community zoom meetings. These helped to keep the gallery connected with others and to give them an outlet for e-commerce.
Keeli says that there are silver linings to all of this though and that the glimpses she has had of what the art community here can be are hopeful. Many people have moved to Chattanooga recently due to the shift to working remotely and this means that there are more people willing to buy artwork for their new homes and as they explore the city.
“As a small business owner, you don’t always get the time away from day-to-day operations to build connections and find opportunities,” Keeli said. “The pandemic forced slowdown gave us more time to deepen relationships with other small businesses and to create key partnerships.”