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SEMVA artists hope for more visibility in new gallery

Visually, the new gallery is a major improvement over the Peace Plaza space. At 1,849 square feet, its slightly smaller, but there is a natural flow and openness that makes browsing a more comfortable experience. Now, the quest is to get potential...

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Rochester artist Gene Wolf hangs new work at SEMVA Art Gallery in downtown Rochester. The gallery opened in October at its new location on South Broadway after vacating its longtime gallery space in the Peace Plaza.
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Navigating all the changes in downtown Rochester these days can be an art form.

Which is perhaps why the new SEMVA gallery could be a success.

The gallery operated by Southeastern Minnesota Visual Artists vacated its former home on the Peace Plaza in December 2015 after 23 years due to slipping sales and a 40-percent increase in rent. For nearly two years after that, the local artists affiliated with SEMVA had no central place to show their work.

"It definitely hurt," said Larry Ricker, a photographer and president of SEMVA.

Then, last October, SEMVA moved into a new gallery space at 320 S. Broadway — not as ideal a location as the Peace Plaza. In fact, the new gallery is on a busy street with limited pedestrian traffic. You almost have to be looking for the place to see it.

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"It’s a struggle, but we knew it was going to be a struggle," Ricker said.

On the other hand, he said, "We had a great fall. October sales were especially good, and December, too. We were overwhelmed with the turnout we had for the grand opening."

That’s all well and good, but winter has been slow, and Ricker said he’s hoping warmer spring weather will bring in more shoppers. "Things are starting to pick up," he said. "The next few months will tell the tale."

The gallery has 70 artists exhibiting in the new space, compared with about 80 in the former location. But with lower rent, Ricker said, "That’s comfortable." Artists pay a membership fee to SEMVA to display their work in the gallery.

Visually, the new gallery is a major improvement over the Peace Plaza space. At 1,849 square feet, the new gallery is slightly smaller. But there is a natural flow and openness that makes browsing a more comfortable experience. The display of art pieces is also better arranged.

Now, the quest is to get potential customers into the gallery.

"We still have people who say, ‘We didn’t know you were open again,’ or ‘We’re glad we finally found you,’" Ricker said.

There are hopes that a small arts district taking shape, with SEMVA, Gallery 24, a framing shop, photo studio, Cafe Steam and the Boys & Girls Club’s new ice cream parlor — all within easy walking distance of one another — will draw more people to the area. Ironically, most storefronts on the Peace Plaza are currently vacant.

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"People in Cafe Steam are looking across the street and seeing our sign," Ricker said. "We are getting some foot traffic."

Also encouraging was the turnout for Ladies Night Out earlier this month. "We had big sales that day," Ricker said. "We need to get involved with more events like that. We do recognize that having events definitely helps pull people in."

For starters, the organization is considering adding a second Art & Hors d’Oeuvres event annually.

Meanwhile, SEMVA artists are happy to once again have a place to call their own.

"It’s not just to sell our work," Ricker said. "It’s working and meeting with other artists."

The SEMVA Gallery is located at 320 S. Broadway in Rochester. Hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday.

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Last October, SEMVA moved into a new gallery space at 320 S. Broadway. The space is not as ideal as the Peace Plaza, says Larry Ricker, SEMVA board president. But there are signs of success.

Related Topics: ARTGALLERY
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