A Farewell To Arts

Arts & Culture

After 43 years showing local art on downtown Main Street, Art Uptown Gallery will close its doors and turn off the lights under that big red awning for the very last time this month, August 26, citing sudden and untenable rent increases. It’s a familiar story and it’s the second high-profile gallery closure in Downtown Sarasota in nearly as many months, following the departure of Dabbert Gallery—a staple for nearly 20 years—at the end of June and for the same reasons. “Sarasota was a community that supported the arts and it was great to be a part of that,” says painter Evelyn McCorristin Peters, a member artist at Art Uptown, where she also served as treasurer for the last eight years. “But the support for visual arts has waned,” she says. “We’re just not a priority anymore.”

“We didn’t make money,” Peters admits (and she would know), “but that wasn’t the point. The point was to support working artists.” And when Peters joined the 26-member collective eight years ago—the second time they invited her—that was the reputation that drew her in. As an artist group, Art Uptown organized and hosted its own shows and exhibitions, with members showing up on the last Saturday of every month to hang their own work and plan for the future of the gallery. Everything was voted on. Member-artists worked the door and desk until a pair of employees could be hired. “And everyone got to be in the window,” Peters says, referring to the broad windows flanking the front door of the gallery. “It was such a great opportunity,” she says. “To get that exposure on Main Street in Sarasota is hard to beat.”

But it was an opportunity sustained chiefly by the largesse of a single patron, Ellen Heritage, who owned the property and, according to Peters, charged the artists only $1,000/month in rent, despite the enviable Main Street location. “She was a strong supporter of the arts and was always involved,” Peters says. But when Heritage passed in early 2023, her properties were sold and Art Uptown had a new landlord. For a few months, Peters says, the artists just kind of hoped no one would notice the bohemians squatting on the gold mine. No such luck. And when the new lease came through, the terms were clear: 60 days at $4,000 a month and then it goes up to $7,000. “We tried to negotiate,” says Peters, “But $4,000 wasn’t even possible.” Not seeing any viable recourse, the collective made the call to close.

In the remaining weeks until August 26, the gallery will be showing a variety of work from its member artists, inviting the public to say its goodbyes and, hopefully, support some of those artists as they find new homes for their work. As for the 26 members of the Art Uptown artist collective, Peters says monthly meetings will continue, albeit on a more relaxed and “come if you can” basis. Because although the gallery may close, Art Uptown always stood for something more than bricks and mortar. “The most important thing, for me, was to be part of a community of working artists,” Peters says. “And we still have each other.”

Art Uptown Gallery closes its doors August 26 at 5pm.

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