BRATTLEBORO—The first time Gayle Marie Weitz, co-founder of Artrageus1 Arts Collective, visited Brattleboro with her husband Nick Biddle, she knew she wanted to stay.
Their daughter had attended Northfield Mount Hermon School, and when the couple came to the area for her graduation, they took a side-trip to Brattleboro.
“Our plan was to retire to Vermont and open an art shop,” Weitz said.
“It was instant attraction for me,” Weitz said. “What I felt immediately coming into Brattleboro, especially for a town this size,” she said, is “there is so much talent here."
When she and Biddle returned to their home in Pittsburgh, Weitz went online to look at real estate. She found a place to live and a storefront for their future gallery. The latter, the building at 57 Elliot St. last occupied by Sprout, now houses Artrageus1.
The gallery opened in October, 2013, as a privately-owned endeavor. In July, the couple changed the structure to a collective.
It became “a drain” for Weitz and Biddle to run Artrageus1 themselves with “a hired hand,” Weitz said. “A collective is a nice way to spread out that duty,” she explained.
Under the collective model the gallery uses, members pay a yearly fee, return a small portion of their sales to the collective, and contribute time to running the shop. This takes the pressure off of one or two owners to fulfill all of the duties of operating a store, and allows the members a place to market and sell their wares without having to open their own stores.
Weitz said the idea for turning the gallery into a collective came from her work with the Arts Council of Windham County (ACWC), where she sits on the board of directors. During the ACWC meetings, Weitz said council members “brainstormed ideas for the space,” and member and artist Susan Rosano suggested a cooperative.
“It clicked,” Weitz said, “and we pursued it from there."
History also supported the couple’s decision.
“A lot of people told us about the Windham Art Gallery, how much they loved it, and how prosperous it was,” Weitz said of the now-defunct cooperatively-run gallery that opened in 1988 and closed in 2009.
She said Brattleboro seemed ideal for a collective.
“This town is so full of creative individuals without the capital or expertise to market themselves,” she said. “We want to create a way to get their names out there."
“We’re running a space to empower the artist, author, or musician” to keep the money from their work, she said. She noted Artrageus1 keeps “10- to 25-percent” of each sale, “versus 50- to 60-percent, which is what galleries in New York City keep.
“The artist gets 90 percent of what they’re making,” she said, adding she doesn’t mean to malign galleries that charge higher fees.
“Costs are high to run a business,” she said.
Weitz and Biddle owning the building is crucial to Artrageus1’s ability to operate under the collective structure.
“It’s why we can afford to do a collective,” she said, explaining, “we’re just hoping to break even,” not make a lot of money. This enables artists to sell their work “with inexpensive overhead."
Artrageus1 has already exceeded its first-year goal for bringing in new members to the collective. “We currently have 16,” Weitz said, and their plans were for 10.
But, “we need a lot more,” she said. The ideal “is probably 40 or 50 members, and that includes authors and musicians who might need space for one CD or book.” Weitz noted the gallery’s definition of “artist” includes visual artists, as well as writers and musicians.
The fee structure recently changed, Weitz noted, making the collective more financially accessible. “We’re trying to put the money back into the artisan’s pocket,” she said.
As a relative newcomer seeing the town with a fresh perspective, why does Weitz think Brattleboro is such a hotbed of talent?
“It’s Vermont, which is a progressive state,” she replied, acknowledging “the arts thrive best in a progressive place. It’s a good environment for that.” Weitz said Brattleboro’s location “near New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New York, is closer to the greater national arts scenes, but still has this remote, funky setting."
“There’s a wonderful history of artistry here,” she said, and “it’s been simmering and brewing for a long time."