Three years ago, when Jane and Mike Brumfield decided to open an art gallery, they found their loyalties divided. Cannon Beach, where Jane Brumfield worked for the Cannon Beach Arts Association, is known for its art scene and seemed the obvious choice. But the pair had called Astoria home since 2015 and were drawn by its authentic feel. Cannon Beach won the coin toss, but the Brumfields couldn’t help noticing the growing energy in Oregon’s oldest city.
“It was really tricky for us,” Jane Brumfield recalled. “Astoria has a slightly grittier edge, a more youthful vibe. Cannon Beach had such established galleries. We chose Cannon Beach over Astoria on that occasion. But there was always a bit of thought that we should have invested here in Astoria, where we live. The art scene is up and coming here.”
She added that Cannon Beach feels like a town based around tourism – although she does admire that. Astoria, on the other hand, has other industry. “It feels more like real life.”
So, they decided to open a second gallery in Astoria, where ships motor along the Columbia River and old Victorians color the hillside. It seemed the best of both worlds. Then came the pandemic and the shutdown of most businesses. And two galleries no longer seemed like such a smart idea.
The Brumfields closed the Cannon Beach shop, Image Gallery, but went ahead with plans for Astoria. Now the pair must navigate the world of social distancing and masking up. It’s no easy feat.
Brumfield Gallery opened in Astoria’s historic Occident Building just shy of a month ago, but every day seems to bring new questions, decisions, concerns.
They’ve canceled what was to be a low-key ribbon cutting scheduled for Aug. 7 and ponder how they will manage visitors for the Astoria 2nd Saturday Art Walk on Aug. 8. But they’ve also come up with fun ways for people to enjoy safely the group exhibition that’s up featuring Carla O’Connor, John Westmark, Lisa Bryson, and Cary Weigand. Joining the group show in the gallery on Aug. 8 will be an exhibition of ceramic sculpture by Michelle Gregor.
Visitors are encouraged to make reservations to stop by. That guarantees they’ll get inside. There is still an open-door policy, but if the gallery has reached its limit of 10 people (including the Brumfields) inside, others will have to wait. It’s something like reserving a table at a restaurant vs. taking your chances seating will be available.
A virtual tour of the show is available, and there’s also an audio tour, with selected exhibits featuring QR codes that can be scanned to hear a recording of the artist talking about the artwork.
Business may not be booming, but people are finding their way there.
“So far, it’s much quieter than we were in Cannon Beach,” Jane Brumfield said. “From a business perspective, that’s worrisome. But what we are finding is that the people actually coming through the door are very engaged.
“In Cannon Beach, there were a lot of day trippers – a stop added onto a beach visit. Visitors here in Astoria seem to be deliberately looking for galleries rather than aimlessly wandering around. They definitely seem to be on a mission when they come through the door,” she continued. “We could have 100 people in Cannon Beach and not sell anything. In this past week, we’ve sold every day.”
For the Art Walk, featuring 13 downtown galleries, Brumfield is also encouraging people to reserve a spot.
“We won’t have to turn people away very often — that’s what we’re hoping,” she said. Noting that they are the “new kids on the walk,” she said she’s slightly worried about regulating traffic. “People who do the Art Walk will want to see us, and we want them to see us.”
The Astoria Downtown Historic District Association, sponsor of the walk, is asking galleries to extend their hours from noon to 8 p.m. to prevent crowds from forming and also is suggesting visitors make reservations. Food and beverages will not be served and visitors are reminded: “Masks On. Wash Up. Spread Out. Be Kind.”
Masks aside, not bad advice any time.