The seeds for the success of this gallery were sown in 1989 by a small group of innovators led, Joni Whitmore and Kurt Marquardt with artists, Linda Smogor, Aleda Yourdon and Nancy Yaki. Driven by a need for warm studio space and the promise of art sales, they identified gallery potential in the historic, albeit dilapidated, Inlet Trading Post. The first iteration of the gallery was a cooperatively-operated mix of studio and retail areas.
The “Bunnell Street Gallery,” was a great step-up to a real gallery in Homer. The original collaborators joined others to form a charter Board of Directors and become a legitimate 501(c)(3) organization in 1994.
The fiscal viability of artwork sales as a means of support for the gallery was still bleak after the first three years. There was also a growing motivation for gallery leadership, art events of all kinds, education and exposure in which works of art need not be for sale. Distinguishing art from the market as the measure of its value proved to broaden the scope of gallery programs and its base of supporters.
Meeting the ongoing need to exhibit, promote and administer Artist in Schools programming, the organization also utilized the main gallery space to host intimate music programs, concerts, plays, films, artist’s lectures and writer’s readings; thus expanding its mission. In 2009, the Bunnell Street Gallery was renamed the “Bunnell Street Art Center”.
Bunnell added artist residencies to its offerings in 2010. Today, Bunnell cultivates and inspires new ways for Alaskans to survive and thrive as creative visionaries living in geographically, culturally and environmentally distinct landscapes. Bunnell Street Arts Center strengthens the social, physical and economic fabric of Alaska by elevating the voices of Alaska artists.
The historic Inlet Trading Post was erected by Maybelle A. and Arthur W. Berry in 1937 on Tuggeht (Dena’ina meaning for “at the shore”), land inhabited and stewarded for thousands of years by the Dena’ina and Sugpiaq People. It is constructed of Douglas fir, hemlock, and cedar. These trees are not local; they arrived as a kit, milled and ready as beams, flooring, joists and siding by steamship from Linfield, Oregon. Tugggeht was renamed Bishop’s Beach by the growing community of homesteaders, fox farmers, and fishermen who colonized Homer in the mid 1900’s.
Prior to the construction of Homer Harbor, boats moored in Beluga Slough. While awaiting a high tide to enter or exit the Slough, folks sat around a coal stove, drank coffee, and swapped stories at the Inlet Trading Post, a lively hub of commerce and community from 1937 until it closed in 1988. Maybelle eventually remarried Edward Bunnell, who named the building and its street after himself. From 1944 to 1976, Henry Chamberlain and Hugh Watson owned the building, though George and Jane Bishop ran the store and renamed it Inlet Trading Post in the 1950s. This name has persisted due to the Bishops’ long tenure managing the Trading Post.
Kurt Marquardt purchased the Inlet Trading Post in 1989 and renovations unfolded over the next several years. He preserved the historic qualities and restored the original layout, floors and windows. He began calling old Homer “Old Town” and welcomed several start-up businesses into the building. These businesses anchor Old Town today–Two Sisters Bakery, Old Inlet Bookshop, Kachemak Heritage Land Trust, Maura’s Cafe, and several brewers. Each occupant fledged, purchased property and established a business in Homer.
Asia Freeman has stewarded the building since the early 1990s and maintains it as a vibrant incubator of local culture and connections. The Bunnell Street Arts Center is on the main floor. The Old Town Bed and Breakfast, which opened upstairs in 1993, often in partnership with Bunnell’s Artist in Residence program. Artist in Residence, Jarod Charzewski, created “Bouys and Barrels,” the front porch sculpture with its walk-through tunnel in 2015, to reflect the area’s historic identity as a boat harbor and hub of commerce. “Bouys and Barrels” also slows traffic and promotes stopping to walk around Old Town, take pictures and visit the arts center.