Poor sales force gallery to close

Wednesday, February 11, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:23 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

In a sculpture toward the center of the room, at least a dozen heads erupt from a metal base. Oils, pastels and acrylics line the walls, and blown glass vases of every color create rainbows in giant windows. The scene is colorful, eclectic and powerful, to say the least.

However, at the end of May this unique element of downtown Columbia and the city’s art community will close.

Legacy Art and Book Works Inc. announced Tuesday it will permanently close its gallery, framery and book conservation operations.

“For a private gallery to survive, it needs to sell art, and we haven’t done enough of that,” owner Jim Downey said in an essay posted on Legacy’s Web site.

The gallery offers a wide variety of artistic media, as well as special exhibitions and a reading series. However, Downey said, “This is a long-term decision in response to long-term trends.”

Downey, who runs the gallery and is one of the region’s only private book conservators, said that the closing is a result of people looking at priorities.

“Many people profess that they support the arts,” he said in his essay, “but it seems that there’s a disconnect between professing such support and opening your wallet or checkbook.”

Jill Stedem, executive director of the Columbia Art League, echoed Downey’s sentiments about declining art sales.

“The economy being in the state that it is has caused people to make other choices,” she said. “Art doesn’t fall at the top of the list.”

Stedem said that such lagging sales do not necessarily reflect a loss of interest in art, just a decline in the purchasing of it. This is not unusual for Columbia — at least three other galleries have closed in recent years.

Since opening, Legacy has featured about 80 shows and contributed to community events such as RampArt and the Monks, a series featuring visitors from Drepung Gomang Monastic College.

Stedem said the challenges Legacy faces do not correspond with the image of Columbia as a community dedicated to the arts.

“Everybody talks about Columbia as being an arts community,” she said. “That makes it especially difficult when you see places like Legacy closing.”

Yet Downey remains positive.

“It’s been an incredible and overall wonderful experience,” he said.

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