I am not a big fan of cooperative art galleries. They rely on the artists themselves to watch the store, sell the work and provide the product, which in my experience leads to a short lifespan and a conflict of interest. Much like the "hippy" communes of the 1960s or the collective farms of the former Soviet Union, not everyone in an artists' co-op can be relied upon to pull their weight.
The issue for me, however, is not the business structure. It's that the work on view is often lacking in skill, the space can look like a thrift shop, most of the paintings are cheaply framed, and the art is poorly displayed with no cohesive theme. Still, I find myself strangely drawn to co-ops hoping to find that hidden gem: an artist who hasn't been discovered.
Accordingly, I recently visited the Dancing Spirit Cooperative in Ignacio. The gallery at 630 Goddard Ave. (Colorado Highway 172) sits on the east side of the street in a single-story, taupe-colored stucco building with turquoise trim across from the Side Kick Lounge Dance Hall and Saloon.
One of the surprises I encountered was that work from 21 artists is crammed into the diminutive gallery, some of whom I recognized from alternative venues elsewhere in the Four Corners. Dancing Spirit's art is eclectic, to say the least, in style, medium and skill. There is jewelry, art glass, painting, sculpture, pottery, craft and textile art on display, with each artist confined to their own 3 feet of space. To the gallery's credit, there's no commission charged for sales, and artists pay only a modest monthly rental.
Artist and founder Kasey Correia said the gallery reopened in April and is moving next door in a few weeks to a much larger space.
"We are encouraging to artists who do not have a venue to show their work," she explained.
Her associate Melody Hedin added, "We also give re-emerging artists a chance to get back in the game; women who took time off to raise a family, for instance."
The aboriginal-style masks created by Correia, undoubtedly influenced by her days as a gallery owner in Alaska, are some of the best pieces at Dancing Spirit.
There are other standouts, the most notable being Joe Toledo, an excellent draftsman who focuses on southwestern themes. Unfortunately, the gallery shows only reproductions of his art.
"Originals would be too expensive to have here," said Correia.
All artwork at Dancing Spirit sells from $7 to $375, which puts them in the category of "gift" items. In the clutter, I almost overlooked a painting by Callie Barker titled "Wind in Trees." It is an interesting, albeit tiny, composition in brilliant colors that would benefit from being 10 times the size. Conversely, even though it is a fascinating piece, the enormous stipple painting by Ron Yellowbird might do better if it was smaller.
Nonetheless, if you find yourself in Ignacio, it could be worth the stop. Who knows what you'll find?
Stew Mosberg is a freelance writer and has written about art regionally and nationally. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org