On a recent Thursday afternoon, after helping two visitors from the Valley purchase face masks made by a local artist, Catherine Sickafoose settled in at a table set up in the Arts Connection to continue working on a watercolor painting.
“We really encourage the artists to demonstrate while they're here,” she said. “It makes it more interesting for people coming in, and I enjoy doing that because it allows me then to engage with the customers about my work.”
The gallery, operated by nonprofit Artists’ Coalition of Flagstaff inside the Flagstaff Mall, has reopened to the public following recent renovations and a fresh coat of paint. As one of the current co-directors, Sickafoose has shown and sold her art here for the past six years, but has been involved in the local art community for almost two decades with shows at Brandy’s Restaurant & Bakery and as a participant of Flagstaff Open Studios.
Similar to Open Studios, the annual self-guided tour that invites the community into artists’ creative spaces, working on art within the gallery allows people a glimpse at the hard work that goes into a completed painting or piece of jewelry.
The gallery closed abruptly in the middle of its annual Recycled Art Exhibition in March 2020, shifting to display photos of each entry and announce category winners on the website as Flagstaff reeled from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now artists and art enthusiasts are being encouraged to return—with masks and social distancing in place—to support creativity in the community.
“We've had up to 25 artists and we probably have about 16 now, so we have plenty room to take more,” Sickafoose said, adding the coalition would like to see more 3D artists in the space as the walls have mostly been filled.
A wide variety of media are already represented, from handmade skincare products and pottery to vivid alcohol ink paintings, photography and more by retired artists, those who have turned it into a second career and even a recent high school graduate.
In order to have their work displayed in the gallery, artists are required to fill out an application and submit several completed pieces to a jury of current members. If deemed compatible with the current art on display, the artist becomes a member and will work bimonthly shifts at the co-op gallery.
Sickafoose, who turned her focus to art following a career as a registered nurse, said she enjoys using a different part of her brain when working with watercolors, as well as the opportunity to teach others how to work with the expressive medium. As interest within the community grows, member artists will be offering classes within their respective trades in the gallery’s classroom.
A newer addition to the Arts Connection is a section of wall dedicated to work by young artists, which came to be following a call for drawings in celebration of Mother’s Day.
“When they put a piece on the wall, they also get to choose something out of our little gift basket,” Sickafoose added. “I know we'll do it again for Father's Day, and we’ll probably find a reason to continue because it’s fun for the kids.”
Following a gray year filled with uncertainty, art brings color to our lives, and galleries continue to share inspiration and meaning with visitors. Stay tuned for details on this year's Open Studios, tentatively planned for August, and the Recycled Art Exhibition in October.