Since artist Chelsea Jepson launched a jewelry design company, CRJ Arts, in 2009, her downtown Bellingham home base has had to serve as an all-in-one workshop, gallery and storefront.
But now, with a new “micro-gallery” just across the hall from her original space, located in Suite G-19 of the Bellingham Hardware Building at 215 W. Holly St., Jepson is seeing the benefit of separating production floor from showroom when it comes to the business of art.
“It really changes my business tremendously to have a dedicated space to really just sit down and work,” she said.
Bellingham art advocates say demand exists for more downtown spaces to serve as workshops and galleries. Not only can these spaces help artists showcase work and expand production, but they might also be an effective way to revitalize empty downtown buildings, advocates say.
Yet finding ideal spots can be challenging.
One of the major roadblocks for artists seeking gallery space is rental cost, said Kelly Hart, executive director of Allied Arts of Whatcom County, a nonprofit organization that supports local artists. According to Hart, a typical downtown art gallery or workshop space will rent for about $150 per month, a hard expense for independent, small-scale artists.
Aside from cost, simply finding available space can also be difficult, Hart said. A number of downtown building owners likely have spaces that could be marketed to artists, but too few are taking advantage of the opportunity, she said.
Not all artists need dedicated space, such as the one Jepson rents in the Bellingham Hardware Building. The benefit of having studio space really depends on the artist and the work he or she creates, Hart said.
Jepson said the central location of her new gallery is key to gaining wider exposure to potential customers.
Her gallery features jewelry displays, as well as some of her watercolor paintings.
She recently launched a bridal jewelry line, featuring necklaces, earrings and crowns. Jepson uses a variety of materials in her pieces, including beach stones, gemstones and pearls, as well as non-traditional components such as silk, wool and toile.
The new gallery gives her more display space, she said. It also gives her better control and freedom with decor and ambiance than she has in her workshop.
She said that factor has come in handy during the monthly Art Walk events in downtown Bellingham, when local galleries and businesses open their doors on the first Friday evening of each month and feature work from various artists.
Jepson said her sales have doubled within the past year, which she attributes to increased traffic from the Art Walks, which are run by the Downtown Bellingham Partnership.
While the goal of an Art Walk is not to help artists sell their work, the recurring event has shown to be an effective way to get more people into downtown businesses and galleries, said Lindsey Payne, the Partnership’s events coordinator.
“It definitely creates an avenue for artists to get exposure,” Payne said.
Jepson said her business has also been helped with new technology tools such as the mobile credit card reader produced by the San Francisco-based firm Square Inc. The Square device, a small white box that attaches to a user’s iPhone, along with the company’s mobile-payment apps, allow Jepson to take her customers’ credit cards without the need to invest in a more expensive credit-card terminal.
Her focus now, she said, is to get more of her pieces, which vary in price from about $65 to more than $200, into boutiques and galleries that feature jewelry. Jepson also offers consultations for custom bridal-jewelry designs.
She prefers the more personal aspect of small-scale boutique sales, which she said offer more opportunities for her to meet customers in person. But as her business expands, Jepson also believes the wholesale market, with large distributors, catalogs and online vendors, will play a big role in her future.
She said her favorite thing about jewelry design is the never-ending challenge to come up with new ideas for pieces.
“It’s a puzzle to constantly rework and re-imagine,” she said “They’re little works of art you can wear.”
Evan Marczynski, lead reporter for The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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