Along with every other gallery in Fort Worth (and some in Alrington and even Euless), Fort Works Art celebrated Spring Gallery Night last Saturday. But unlike every other gallery in town, Fort Works Art was also celebrating its new permanent location.
The brainchild of co-owners Lauren Childs, Leigh Ann Williams, and J.W. Wilson began as a pop-up gallery by Childs and Wilson a couple of years ago. When space opened up next to Childs’ house, near the Cultural District, the three friends decided to take advantage of the opportunity. Fort Works Art’s 4,000-square-foot building faces Montgomery Street, just south of Byers Avenue.
Wilson and Childs had considered renting, but the rates in the two most artist-friendly parts of town, the Cultural District and the Near Southside, were surprisingly high, Wilson recalled. And location mattered. The gallery’s rent or a mortgage would be paid almost exclusively by commissions. After comparing the foot traffic of galleries around Fort Worth and considering hot spots frequented by potential buyers, the duo concluded that a slightly pricier space near the Cultural District would pay off in the end. Childs bought the building with her own money.
To help manage the space and sell art, Childs and Wilson brought on Williams, a mutual friend who has a lot of experience in the art world as an educator and painter.
The three co-owners (whose ages range from late 30s to early 40s) plan to put on about a dozen shows a year featuring new and established local artists as well as high-profile out of towners. Potential buyers, Wilson said, can expect a wide range of price points.
If Fort Works Art’s grand opening is any indication, the threesome has a bright future. More than 20 pieces were purchased that night, Childs said, and a handful of artists received commissions for new works. She expects several more paintings will be sold in the coming days as customers mull over the more expensive works.
Childs and Wilson have been doing OK as artists themselves, though they have always endeavored to help the community. While the one-off shows were great, attracting huge crowds and putting some ka-ching in artists’ pockets, Childs said, selling art requires giving potential customers the option to view pieces several times.
“I’m interested to see, now that we’re open more than just for one night, what will happen when people can come back,” Childs said. “People don’t necessarily want to make the decision to spend $4,000 on an artwork in one night. They want to return and look at” pieces several times before buying them.
Wilson agrees. “We’re trying to make it easier for the random person who maybe isn’t a collector to say, ‘Hey I love this piece, and it’s only $100 or $500. I can afford this,’ ” he said. “We’re trying to open up that avenue between art, artists, and people who want to see and buy art. Just because you can’t afford this $20,000 piece doesn’t mean you can’t be a fan of the artist.”
Fort Worth, he added, needs more contemporary gallery spaces.
Installation artist Christopher Blay has been singing that song for awhile. When he moved here from Houston 20 years ago, he said, Fort Worth had a larger number of galleries for contemporary art. That number sunk low before ramping back up only recently. However, some of the most successful spots (Artspace 111, the Fort Worth Community Arts Center, Gallery 414, and William Campbell Contemporary Art) are from the early 1990s.
The co-owners’ first goal, Childs said, is to show that Fort Worth can be a suitable alternative to the Dallas Design District. The next step is to lure potential patrons from out of town by featuring established artists from New York City, Los Angeles, and other allegedly cosmpolitan locales.
This November, Fort Works Art will present Duets, an exhibit in which four local artists (Lauren Childs, Riley Holloway, Janna Tidwell, and Williams) are paired with established painters from New York City, allowing the viewer to compare and contrast the artists’ output. The first round will match Holloway with Tim Okumara.
“Both their works deal with concept-based painting,” Childs said. “The best way to escalate Fort Worth’s artists is to put them in shows with blockbuster figures from around the country, so people can see how good our Fort Worth artists are.”
The high-profile names will also draw Dallasites to Fort Worth, Childs believes, something that needs to happen more.
Childs and her colleagues haven’t finalized their hours of operation, she said, but plan to be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and by appointment.
“The more people and businesses there are to support these amazing artists, the more attention Fort Worth will get,” she said. “We have a great reputation for our museums, and I think we can have a great reputation for our local artists and galleries as well.”