Sustaining Art

It could start as a sketch, an outline, or even just a blank piece of paper, but somehow artists all over the world manage to make a living off of their artwork. In order to sustain themselves, many artists look to fine art galleries to help aid in publicizing, displaying and eventually selling their work.

In contrast to a for-profit fine art gallery, the historic Hardy Gallery, located on Anderson Dock in Ephraim, is a non-profit organization which works to enrich, promote and sustain the vibrancy of the visual arts and artists of the Door Peninsula. One way the organization works to accomplish this mission is through a variety of exhibits presented in the iconic graffiti-covered warehouse. If a gallery patron is interested in purchasing any artwork the Hardy has on display, the volunteer gallery docent will refer the buyer directly to the artist.

To continue operations, like most non-profits, the Hardy Gallery organizes a series of fundraisers throughout the year. Their primary fundraiser, The Collector’s Choice Benefit in conjunction with the Annual Collection Invitational exhibit, is currently underway. In accepting the invitation to participate in the exhibit, each artist agrees to donate one original artwork in addition to another substantial piece for display. The artworks that have been donated are then available for purchase in a silent auction that runs throughout the duration of the exhibit.

This year’s Collection Invitational marks the organization’s sixth, and according to Elizabeth Meissner-Gigstead, Executive Director, the Hardy is hoping to exceed last year’s benchmark of $12,800 raised.

“The monies raised from the donated artworks support a portion of the organization’s programming as well as our operations,” said Meissner-Gigstead “The fundraising efforts we do are vital to our future, and the artists are an integral component of that; we are grateful for their continued support.”

The money raised from the silent auction allows the Hardy to provide programs such as Art Camp and Exposure to Creativity (ETC), which offers hands-on workshops and a mentoring program to Gibraltar High School youth. Some of the mentors in the ETC program are also artists that the Hardy showcases. Many of these Door County artists feel the need to give back to the community in multiple ways.

“I am aware that the arts are in difficulty because of the economic times, so I thought I would try to contribute to the Hardy,” said Charles “Chick” Peterson, a contributing artist. “They are doing a worthwhile thing contributing to the arts so, I am glad to help if I can.”

The strong urge from local artists to support art in general and the Hardy specifically has turned the Collection Invitational into an incredibly popular exhibit. In fact, the Hardy is not able to showcase the talent of all of the peninsula’s professional artists each year, so the Exhibitions Committee has the task of narrowing down the organization’s database of artists each year.

Before an artist can be considered for the exhibit, they must meet a few requirements. Artists must be from the area, and they must be professional artists.

“Since its inception, the purpose of the Hardy Gallery has always been to showcase local artists and this exhibit provides the means to do just that. The exhibit continues to grow and evolve just as the art community does,” said Meissner-Gigstead.

This year, the Hardy has 59 artists contributing to the Collection Invitational.

“It gives the public a really nice cross section of the artists here in the county and allows them to be able to see work in one location shown together,” said Ed Fenendael, who has been contributing to the invitational for several years.

The invitations went out in March, giving the artists roughly five months to complete two original pieces that have never been showcased before. The gallery asks that each piece relate to one another and come with an artist statement, adding a more personal touch and revealing some of the inspiration for the pieces.

There will be a little bit of everything in the collection, representing a wide variety of media and artistic processes. Additionally, this year they have almost double the three-dimensional art from last year.

Meissner-Gigstead has the task of putting together all of the works into a cohesive exhibit. Each artist’s two pieces must be hung together, and all of the paired artwork must be fit into the limited space like pieces of a puzzle.

“You work with the artwork until it works together. You can just feel it,” she said.

Meissner-Gigstead recognizes that the Collection Invitational also helps to build relationships with artists in the community. Another exhibit that currently hangs which also builds these types of relationships, and perhaps on an even broader scale, is the Community Mosaic Project.

The Mosaic Project consists of six-inch by six-inch canvases that are distributed to different members of the community who, in turn, artistically decorate the canvases in any way they choose and return them to the Hardy. Because of the wide range of artistic skill, the pieces complement one another when displayed in a large mosaic format.

Rob Williams, an artist showing in the Collection Invitational, did an original painting of a person in a straw hat for the Hardy’s Mosaic Project. In fact, Williams’ six-inch canvas was the inspiration behind his donated piece in the Invitational.

“The Mosaic Project naturally fell with the Collection exhibit…and they enhanced each other,” said Meissner-Gigstead. “They complement each other because of the community aspect.”

While the Collection Invitational offers artwork via a silent auction, the Community Mosaic Project raises funds via a “blind buy.” Buyers purchase a number, not a canvas. No one knows what their $25 donation will get them until the Hardy packages up each canvas and ships it to its new owner. Last year The Hardy started this project and brought in 312 canvases; this year’s goal was 350.

The Collection Invitational and the Community Mosaic Project will allow the Hardy to perpetuate their mission in support of art – both financially and motivationally. After all, what could be more inspiring to a budding artist than seeing their work somehow hanging beside that of the likes of Chick Peterson, Ed Fenendael or Rob Williams.

Both the Collection Invitational and the Community Mosaic can be seen through August 30 at the Hardy Gallery on Anderson Dock in Ephraim. For more information, call 920.854.2210 or visit