Bunnell Street Arts Center’s mission is to nurture and present exceptional innovative art in all media for diverse audiences.
The seeds for the success of this gallery were sown in 1989 by a small group of artists led by Joni Whitmore who collectively expressed the vision and energy to plant a dream of a gallery to which Homer would be quickly and deeply attached. Driven by a need for warm studio space and the promise of art sales, these folks identified gallery potential in the historic, albeit dilapidated, Inlet Trading Post. Down by the shore of Bishop’s Beach overlooking spectacular Kachemak Bay and the Kenai Mountain Range, the setting commanded appreciation and idealism. Claiming the first floor of the old building, the original “Great Company Gallery” invoked substantial renovations, resuscitating the beloved old building into an inviting gallery space. Ancient linoleum was scraped up to reveal hardwood floors in fine condition. Innumerable hardware bins and partitions were removed to expose the space to sunny southern exposure. The gallery was a mix of studio and retail areas. Tie-dyed T-shirts multiplied beside stoneware pottery, silver jewelry, wild-flower notecards and paintings of fantasy scenes. The collection was spirited, zany, and funky.
After one year the venue might have collapsed from desertion by most of the original crew. However, one of them, Kurt Marquardt, who had been chiefly responsible for renovations, decided to purchase the building. He was committed to the gallery’s survival and welcomed another group of artists to collaborate with him to keep the gallery open. Kurt’s commitment has been a critical reason for the gallery’s continued growth. From the beginning of his ownership of the Old Inlet Trading Post building, he agreed to a “pay as you can” contribution from the gallery. Five years after Kurt purchased the building the gallery was finally ready to carry a contractual lease. Bunnell Street Gallery has now rented its space for five years at a discounted rate that reflects its non-profit status.
The new crew decided to change the gallery’s format to showcase original fine art. “Bunnell Street Gallery” was its new name, and it initiated the current trend of local art shows changing monthly with a generous opening reception. Bunnell Street Gallery was immediately embraced by the community for its serious effort, a great step-up to a real gallery in Homer. Forging a conceptual structure to underpin the physical vision has been a slower, community-based project. The gallery has been in a steady process of evolution since its inception. The original collaborators joined others to form a charter Board of Directors and become a legitimate 501(c)(3) organization. In this move we affirmed several important goals: (1)self-sufficiency through a broader basis of financial support than sales, including fundraising events, membership and grants (2) attracting community support including volunteers for Board positions and gallery hosts (3) more effective networking and collaboration with other local, State and National non-profits.
The fiscal viability of artwork sales as a means of support of this gallery was still bleak after the first three years. Our short summers bring many art-loving tourists, but not enough to carry us through the year. More importantly, a growing motivation for the gallery leadership is art appreciation, education and exposure. Works of art need not be for sale. Separating art from the market as the measure of its value proved to broaden the scope of what the gallery presented and enjoyed.
Bunnell Street Gallery expanded its mission to accommodate concerts and performances suited to the intimate “salon” setting of the gallery. Responding to the ongoing need to exhibit, promote and educate in the visual arts area, the gallery brought a balance to our community that is already rich in large performance art venues and natural history exhibitions. Now, in addition to a forum for the visual arts, the community seeks frequent intimate music programs, concerts, plays, films, artist’s lectures and writer’s readings at the Gallery.
Once a hub of commerce for fisherfolk and homesteaders, a gathering place where one might sip coffee around the coal stove, the Old Inlet Trading Post lay derelict in the late 1980’s as Homer grew and new and larger specialty stores outpaced the Trading Post of the past. But, as the community of Homer has grown and changed, so has our commerce. Artists and art supporters here see that our current frontier is not these mountains and woods we admire daily, but the imagination this landscape provokes. Culture is the commerce of this day. The sense of community is maintained in a site for salvaging the creative outpourings of local folk. This is perhaps an innovate concept, a way in which Homer outpaces the fractured metropolis Outside. We have found our center, as the Bunnell Street Arts Center.