Local artists come together for annual Visual Arts Co-op show

Friday, March 11, 2011

Since 2003, the Visual Arts Co-op has provided a common thread for artists of many media.

It has grown to become Cape Girardeau's largest organized art group. The co-op is celebrating the beginning of its ninth year with the eighth annual art show, which opened Friday at the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri.

The co-op maintains a roster of 44 artists, all of whom produce a new piece of work to sell at monthly shows year-round and three new pieces for the annual show. The annual show is a chance for the co-op to showcase the work of the newest members, as well as recent projects from standing members of the group.

The group normally shows only in the Chapman Gallery, the first section of the arts council space. It's named after the group's founder, Dr. Jean A. Chapman of Cape Girardeau.

Co-op member Vicki Outman of Jackson said the group was started as a way for the arts council to expand and share the benefits of a larger facility. Chapman and Dr. Edwin Smith were on the board of directors for the arts council at the time.

"They wanted to move to a larger, better place so that they could do a lot more programs, but the cost was just too prohibitive," Outman said. "They had the idea that if they could have some group share the rent, it would not only benefit them, but also a group of artists.

"They started this co-op with 30 or 35 artists, and then it built up over the years to average around 45," Outman said. "We pay rent to the arts council for the space, and they in turn then take care of our art sales and handle the money for us, as well as keeping the building open every day."

The co-op members volunteer throughout the year at the gallery, and members paint the space twice a year.

"We try to be there for First Friday openings as well, to meet and greet," Outman said. "It's really a win-win situation for both parties."

Co-op member Brenda Seyer said the membership of the co-op is intentionally diverse. What she likes about this year's show is the variety, from media and subjects to how the artwork is presented and made.

"It's not just a variety of artists, but a variety of age ranges, backgrounds," she said. "Some come from smaller towns around here, as far away as Poplar Bluff. The artists have varying experiences with their art. Some are teachers, some are artists in other fields."

Seyer said this diversity makes for a unique show.

In addition to letting artists share and interact, the co-op is also a way for emerging artists to bring their work into the public eye.

Malcolm McCrae is a new member to the co-op and brings a fresh genre to the table with airbrushing.

"He's a very energetic young man that wants to give back to the community, particularly the young kids that quite possibly could get into trouble," Outman said.

McCrae's work with an airbrush has left an impression on Outman, among others.

"He does portraiture that you would swear is done with a paintbrush," she said. "It's just beautiful, beautiful artwork. He's teaching classes to young boys how to do this airbrush, and give them something to connect them to art instead of out running the streets."

With new genres like airbrushing, the Visual Arts Co-op is also appealing to a new generation, which the members hope will ensure their existence and growth in the future as young artists come up.

"The main criterion on admission is 'do we need this type of work in our gallery?'" Outman said. "In other words, we try to make a balance where we're not just showing a few things."

Outman said the co-op wants to also see how familiar artists are with their media, and their ability. Members rank the applications and when there is an opening, they start making calls. Applications are kept on file for one year.

The Visual Arts Co-op Art Show will be on display through March 26.

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