The community art table at The Workhouse in Bend is long enough to host a medieval-style banquet for friends and family and strong enough to park a VW Beetle on without doing any damage to the 16-foot-long table.
However, that might annoy the community of artists who use the table for work, meetings, demonstrations, classes, musical stage, and gathering place for group meals. In other words, whatever needs to happen in an artistic community.
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The Workhouse is home to a collection of seven resident artists who maintain studios and display their work to the public. The space is complimented by a retail gallery offering pieces by another 50 to 70 regional artists whose work spans the spectrum from photography and oils to clothing, papermaking, and hand-made greeting cards. The open, well-lit space, in an old brick building originally part of the Bend Iron Works, provides the artists not only a venue to sell their work, but also a place where they can interact with both the public and other makers, a balm to the sometimes-lonely work of creating.
This artistic endeavor has been open to the public since 2011, but its inception began with the economic crash of 2008.
Director Cari Brown, a candlemaker, had just returned from living in New York City. “I literally got here on the weekend before the stock market plummeted,” she said.
She and fellow art activist Stuart Breidenstine had an idea as they discussed Bend’s art scene.
“There had been co-working artists’ spaces and other art fairs over the years, but many of them were closed,” she said. “We found a vacuum in the opportunities to sell and display art.”
Having grown up in Bend, Brown left the small, blue-collar town with a population of 28,000 and an equally tiny community of artists in 1994. The Brooks Scanlon lumber mill was still active and timber and ranching were economic driving forces. She spent some time running a small gallery in Portland, then traveled to New York, where she found out what a vibrant art scene looked like.
Her experience with a thriving big-city art community made her skeptical about the idea of The Workhouse getting off the ground. But her conversations with Breidenstine continued, and their idea about a place where artists could demystify their process and display their work kept bubbling back to the surface. They thought about letting the public view the creative process when, all too often, the artist works in solitude.
“There’s some things about an artist being sequestered in their studio which are lovely,” Brown said, “but at the same time, it creates an ‘othering’ of artists.”
“We knew there were some bigger artists who might have galleries in other places,” she added, “but we found there were lots of artists who didn’t have any gallery opportunities.”
In 2011, Brown and Breidenstine had the opportunity to lease a building in the old Bend Iron Works for a reasonable price. The owner told them they could have their pick of the I-beams left behind. The community table, with a lot of sweat equity involved, was begun.
They figured, even if they didn’t get their business calculations correct, that a scrappy band of artists would, at least, be able to keep the lease paid and lights on if they worked together.
Just over a decade later, The Workhouse maintains seven art studios:
- Susan Porteous Evans, Greenbird Press, letterpress printing and bookbinding
- Sweet Pea Cole, Sweet Pea Cole, illustration, public art, and sustainable air fresheners
- Ashley Scholtes, Mitch Jewelry, jewelry designer
- Patrick Logan, Yawn Glass, stained glass and painter
- Shawna Ziegenbein, Sansarc Culture, seamstress, photographer, apothecarist
- Marianne Prodehl, Junk to Jems, jewelry designer
And, no, we didn’t make a mistake. At this writing, there’s an opening and they are taking applications.
The Workhouse is a for-profit company that Brown and her partner/husband, Christian Brown, operate like a nonprofit. They allow themselves a modest living and prefer to plow the remainder of the cash flow back into the business supporting the artists.
The nonresident artists pay a 40 or 50 percent commission on their sales, while resident artists pay between $350 and $550 monthly rent, plus 30 percent commission on sold art. Rent includes marketing and advertising, utilities, internet, and cleaning supplies. In return, they’re asked to be in their studio three days per week.
“We’re not on their case about the residents clocking in,” Cari Brown said, “but we know the artists who are able to be in their space that much find the most success in selling their art.”
Marianne Prodehl of Junk to Jems Jewelry said that getting feedback personally from customers is mostly good.
For example, customer interaction allows her to make minor adjustments on the length of a pendent chain according to the buyer’s preference, or to take a stone that’s a source of comfort or remembrance and add it to a ring. In either case, that means a more satisfied customer and a sale where there may not have been one.
Certainly, an artistic win. But there’s another win for this community:
“One of the best things about this is all these artists collaborating together and working for each other with no drama,” said Shawna Ziegenbein, resident artist at Sansarc Culture.
That collaboration without drama shows the moment someone walks in the door and sees the artists gathered around their community table.