MRC funds help gallery put on new look
Armed with light fixtures, bulbs, and pedestals, downtown consultant Michele Reeves, of Civisis Consultants, returned to Madras July 23, as part of a team to show local businesses how to change their look.
The team's first project, funded by a $7,000 grant from the Madras Redevelopment Commission, was Art Adventure Gallery.
"We came to work on Art Adventure as a launch for the city's new window improvement program," said Reeves, who was accompanied by Ullika Pankratz of UP Design Lounge, and Seanette Corkill of Frontdoor Back, both designers with extensive experience in merchandising.
"The theory behind window improvement is that the cheapest and easiest way to bring vibrancy, activity and encourage cross pollination in a downtown district is by activating windows," Reeves explained. "Businesses are what set the brand identity of a downtown, and if we can't see in anyone's windows, then we don't understand what businesses have on offer, and downtown feels vacant and uninviting."
Reeves, who was hired by the city in February, and held a "Small Town Downtown Turnaround" meeting for the community in May, was intrigued by the art gallery, which had already undergone a facade renovation as one of the first projects by the Madras Redevelopment Commission in the early 2000s.
Calling the exterior improvement "simply smashing," Reeves said that the project had one problem. "The glass that was put in for the storefront windows is very dark, which makes our job harder when it comes to window improvement."
The idea for the project was introduced to Coralee Popp, who manages the gallery, by Morgan Greenwood, assistant planner for the Madras Community Development Department. Greenwood approached Popp to ask if she'd be interested in having the team make changes to the gallery, and then hold a workshop to display and talk about the improvements. Popp agreed, and was very pleased with the results.
"I think they did a wonderful job," she said, noting that the team changed everything from the sign in front of the gallery to the lighting to the displays to the location of the wooden pews.
"It is not easy to have a team of strangers converge on your space and radically deconstruct fixtures, remove art, and change your layout," said Reeves. "Coralee and the gallery folks were so much fun to work with. This gallery is a great intersection of art and the community and it was an absolute honor to come in and be able to help it showcase all of the amazing talent that Jefferson County has to offer!"
"Now, when you walk in, it's so open," said Popp, who learned that since most people are right-handed, most go to right when they enter a shop. "They put new lights on south wall. The difference between the works on the south wall and the north wall was like night and day; the color just popped with the new lights."
Reeves explained that when they work on a project, they focus on two areas: window infrastructure and merchandising.
"We need to make the window transparent, so people can see in it open or closed, day or evening," she said. "To do this, we have to balance the light level inside with the light level outside, which means putting lighting in just above the window."
The team added the infrastructure above the window to allow them to merchandise from the top of the window downward, and then added fixtures below the window to bring display space all of the way up to the base of the window, in order to merchandise from the window sill upward.
"Once we get all of that infrastructure in place, then we merchandise the window," she said. "Our goal in a window is to draw attention and reflect the experience people might have in the space, giving a sense of the range of products that might be for sale inside."
"Previously, because the windows were so dark, there was a paper sign with a list of what was available in the gallery in the window, telling customers what they would find," said Reeves. "With our changes, we were showing what was available by displaying a wide variety of products: pottery, art, books, baskets, furniture, paintings, cards, masks, etc."
To ensure that the business maintained its gallery ambience, she said they tackled the interior as a part of the window program "because the experience in the gallery is a part of what you want to showcase through the windows. People on the exterior want to know you are going to create a great environment for the art."
With the goal of improving circulation, Reeves said, "We created focal points that draw the visitor in, and around each focal point is a series of displays designed to encouraging wandering to the next focal point. This keeps customers engaged and exploring."
"The secret sauce of mood in a space is lighting," she stressed. "We changed the bulbs on one side of the gallery to the correct shape, color and quality and the art literally jumped off the walls! Small changes in lighting can transform our perceptions of a product and a space."
Finally, the team took on merchandising. "Galleries can be intimidating for customers. Because this is an art and craft space, it really needs to give permission to people to browse and delight in all of the amazing art on offer," she said. "Previously, the merchandising gave off a 'look but don't touch' museum vibe. We shifted that to give off a 'please explore and interact' vibe. The more people interact with the product, the more likely they are to purchase."
Surprisingly, the impact of the changes occurred almost immediately.
"We came in on the evening of the 23rd and installed the lighting infrastructure and top-down merchandising system," she said.
"At that time, we also moved Coralee's amazing horse to be the first focal point in the store, located directly in front of the front entry door," said Reeves, noting that they put a spotlight on the mosaic horse.
"The next morning, at 9 a.m., as we were working away in the store, I spotted two women peering in the window looking at the horse," said Reeves, who went out and introduced herself. "It turns out they were mosaic artists and the horse got their attention through the window!"
On July 24, the team held a workshop outside Art Adventure Gallery for local businesses interested in improving their curb appeal.
"I'd say we probably had approximately a dozen folks attend the hour-long workshop afterwards, and they all seemed very excited," said Greenwood, who organized the event. "In general, I think it was the perfect example of the 'show, don't tell' ethos that Michele had talked about in previous presentations. It's very hard to verbally explain the impact that a well-lit, beautifully arranged space will have on a a business, but when you see it, you get it."
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