ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Chanel Melendez is truly living her dream.

A few months after waking from an unusual dream about owning an art gallery, the 22-year-old Annapolis resident is running one.

She’s funding The Unknown Artist with her life savings and juggling full-time work behind the counter with college.

“I feel like being impulsive is actually not that bad a thing,” she said. “It’s a really cool feeling. I like being here and realizing this is my space. I did it.”

She’s not the only one venturing into the art business either, despite the sluggish economy.

A few new galleries have opened in the city even as some established venues, like the American Craftworks Collection, close. There’s been so much movement that it often seems like a scorecard is necessary to figure out who’s opening, who’s closing and who’s moving.

The net effect, though, is that the overall number of galleries has remained fairly consistent, said Cynthia McBride, who runs McBride Gallery and heads the Annapolis Gallery Association. The specific tally depends on what is classified as a gallery, but is usually in the 20s.

McBride also said business has picked up. “The galleries I’ve talked to are all pretty happy with what’s happening this fall,” she said.

This jibes with the response Melendez has gotten so far, and the interest at another new venue, Tyler Mitchell Galleries.

Katherine Burke, who runs The Annapolis Collection Gallery and opened a second location this year, chalks up the surge in business to sites like Facebook. “I think the days of waiting for people to walk in are over,” she said. “Social networking is what I do a lot of.”

Burke, who plans to consolidate into one gallery soon, said for one event alone — a 200th birthday celebration for Chopin — an ad on Facebook was seen by 577,000 people in just the first couple
hours it was posted.

Melendez, who paints but doesn’t have any of her own work in her gallery, used Facebook, Twitter and other sites to recruit artists. Mitchell also has an online presence.

“I think it’s a huge mix of social networking and the persistence of the artists,” said Melendez, who is finishing up studies at Anne Arundel Community College and intends to move on to four-year school in hopes of ultimately teaching elementary school art.

Most of the 60 artists in her Cathedral Street gallery are from Maryland and have never exhibited before. The eclectic selection of items ranges in price from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars and includes jewelry, paintings, clothing, sports memorabilia, books and photographs. “I want to help the ones struggling, but who are super-talented,” she said.


Coming into focus

The way Tyler Mitchell sees it, getting laid off from his construction job in California was the best thing that ever happened to him.

The 31-year-old, who grew up in Davidsonville and attended art school, decided to move back to this area after losing his job this spring. He originally considered going back to school, but soon after relocating found out about a vacant storefront in Annapolis and decided to open a gallery featuring his photographs.

For the past couple years, he’d been selling his pictures online as a sideline business. He also had his work featured in six exhibitions this year.

“I feel like things have fallen into place,” said Mitchell, which is a sentiment shared by Melendez. “Everyone I talked to said ‘Go for it!’ So, it’s pretty exciting.”

Tyler Mitchell Galleries opened 10 days ago in a State Circle space that used to feature Marion Warren’s iconic pictures. His prints range from $30 to $200, with framed works priced higher. He also has calendars and other small items.

“It’s been really exciting,” said Mitchell. “It’s a lot like going back to school in real-world experience. It seems like a good time to start something.”

The art community in Annapolis has been receptive, and the response from the public has been good so far, he added.

Mitchell specializes in photographs of everyday objects, especially items noting urban decay, such a paint-flecked wall or the side of an old truck. They’re captured at extreme close-ups so that the items appear to be more like abstract paintings.

“I’m hoping my stuff is a little different,” he said.

Mitchell, who is self-taught as a photographer but trained as a painter, plans to use part of his gallery as a studio and eventually exhibit his paintings too.

“I’m going to be in here quite a bit,” he said. “I feel like my work has a lot to offer.”


Close call

It hasn’t been as happy a holiday season for Kelly Richard at the American Craftworks Collection.

Richard, a sculptor from Tracys Landing who has had a gallery in Annapolis for 15 years, will close the doors on her Main Street shop on Christmas Eve, and currently has all merchandise 25 to 40 percent off. She’ll spend the week after Christmas cleaning out the 2,900 square-foot space. (A wine bar is going to be the next tenant).

“It breaks my heart,” she said. “It’s like losing your child.”

Still, the decision to close was easy based solely on finances. Richard said she’s been losing money for a long time, and this year’s sales have been especially bad. “I really thought I’d be able to hold on, (but) it just didn’t make sense,” she explained.

Her gallery specializes in quirky and classic crafts from about 150 artists, and she said they’re worried about their future.

“I think everybody is concerned where they’re going to be going,” she said. “We’ve all become a family and had a good relationship for many, many years.”

Richard, for her part, plans to start sculpting again and selling her creations, like papier-mache birds, online. When told that some people are opening new galleries as she closes, Richard remarked:

“I don’t know that I’d want invest in any retail right now… (But) thank goodness there are people that want to try.”

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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