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Blue Morning Gallery Steps Up

Despite Recession and Oil Spill, Art Blooms Downtown
BY Dylan O’Leary

Why did 47 artists cross the road?

2,000 more square feet.

Blue Morning Gallery just moved from its old location at 112 S. Palafox into their new address, 21 S. Palafox, having grown out of its shell.

“It was a lot more than that,” said Jim Sweida, president of its board and one of the 47 artists that govern the co-operative.

Sweida explained, “We knew our lease was running out at our old location. But in addition to knowing we needed a bigger place, we knew we needed more artists in the gallery. We had about 30-35 artists then and had to expand our variety.”
The new gallery is 3,500 square feet (up from 1,500) and has a classroom where artists can attend seminars and learn new techniques.

The Blue Morning Gallery was founded 12 years ago as the Adams Street Artists. As a co-op, it has no employees and therefore no salaries, a business structure not common for fine art galleries, but at Blue Morning, it paints a good picture.
“We’re a good group, and our collective decision making has made good business over the years,” Sweida said.

And one of those decisions is to have the opening on the same day as the Pensacola Wine Festival, which will flood the street with festive crowds.

“Downtown Pensacola is an event-driven market,” Sweida added. “Hosting an event like a grand opening pays off so well when you coordinate it with a downtown event, like a festival or Gallery Night. For example, the past three Gallery Nights have had record-breaking business for downtown. We wanted that kind of crowd when we opened, and the wine festival was it.”

Blue Morning Gallery will provide a little entertainment and cookies and punch for thirsty wine folk that afternoon. Also, to heighten awareness of the new location, Blue Morning will raffle off a $300 in-store shopping spree, drawn at 6:30 p.m. (no purchase required).

Read more about the Pensacola Wine Festival in the article “Fine Wine, Fine Art” in this issue.

Art is Good Business

The decision to move and improve was a risk, but Blue Morning was given a couple of signs that it could be done.

“Our restructuring and reorganization developed during the 2008-09 recession,” Sweida said. “Yet the board approved it and then so did the full membership, and we went for it. All was going well. Then the BP oil spill hit. Business was affected and there was a low point, but we managed to weather it through the summer.

“Just about the same time as the oil spill, our vice president, Mark Schmitt, happened to be walking past this new location right as the leaseholder went out of business. It was pure karma. We knew it was a great fit, but we didn’t think we could do it.

“By September, our sales increased and no one had rented the new space. So we signed and we all packed up our things in March.

“We felt the move was a very positive statement for not only the Blue Morning Gallery’s success, but it was also a positive statement for the status of downtown Pensacola and the greater community. Art, despite the recession and the oil spill, plays an important part in people’s lives.”

Schmitt, a tile artist, likes the new space.

“It was a perfect opportunity, and it all came together,” Schmitt said. “And it shows that things are picking up downtown. We also feel safer since there will be two extra Gallery Nights this year. Those really help—great for the new art we’ve displayed.”

“I love the camaraderie at Blue Morning,” said mixed-media artist Laura Wolfersperger, the gallery’s secretary. “There’s a lot of real positive feedback among us and it’s so good for our art and for our customers. I felt a warm welcome when I first came there and still do.”

Schmitt agreed, adding that he came to the gallery because his wife told him to. “She’s my inspiration.”

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BLUE MORNING GALLERY GRAND OPENING
WHEN: 3-6 p.m. Saturday, April 16
WHERE: 21 S. Palafox
COST: Free
DETAILS: 429-9100 or bluemorninggallery.com