When artists, volunteers and supporters gathered to celebrate ArtSpace Wonthaggi's first anniversary last Sunday, almost everyone agreed the gallery had succeeded beyond everyone’s expectations.
It started with an unexpected offer last year from Neil Rankine and Nola Maxfield, the owners of a McBride Avenue shop: would the Bass Coast Artists’ Society like to use the shop as a gallery?
The society’s members jumped at the offer. The real attraction was the central location, Wonthaggi artist Dennis Leversha said on Sunday.
“We’re extremely lucky to be here next to the park, the pub, the bookshop, the Goods Shed [home to the arts society] and the library.
“We certainly couldn’t afford to rent a space in this location at normal rent. We’re paying about a third of what it’s worth because Neil and Nola wanted to put back into the town.”
Following several working bees, backed up by business donations of glass cabinets, paint and a security system, the community-run gallery opened last October.
Gallery chairman Colin Billington said success was spelt out in the numbers. In the first year, more than 5600 people came through the front door and 103 artists exhibited works. “We must be doing something right.”
He thanked Neil and Nola, the artists who had supported the gallery and the many volunteers who manned the gallery. “Many are not art or craft people but simply enjoy the atmosphere of meeting and chatting to gallery visitors. It’s a lovely atmosphere to work in.”
Mr Leversha said the gallery had been very well received by both locals and visitors. “A lot have commented that this is what the town needs and it should have happened long before. It’s a great opportunity for local artists to display what they do.”
Leongatha artist Jennifer Chitty, a member of the Bass Coast Artists Society, said it was a great space. “Leongatha doesn’t have anything like this where people can just pop in and browse.
“It’s a great place for us artists to show our work. You spend a lot of time doing your art and it’s wonderful to be able to see it on the wall.”
Nola Maxfield said she and Neil were not artists but appreciated the arts.
“One of the things people had been talking about was the need for a gallery somewhere central. When the shop became vacant, we thought it was something we could do. While I’m still working we can afford to make a contribution to the artistic community and town.
“We’re not the only ones contributing. There are lots of volunteers working on the committee and in the shop.”
Nola said she often dropped in to look at the works. “It’s wonderful to see so much good art work, and to see the diversity of it. It’s just amazing how much talent there is in the community.”
Neil Rankine is a man of few words but he looked very happy. “It’s gone even better than I expected,” he said.