The Washington Post

Manassas, Leesburg co-ops give artists the tools to design and sell their work

The necklace is intricate. Tiny Swarovski crystals, sterling-silver beads and faceted bronze encircle one another and create an ornate embroidery fit for a neo-Victorian occasion.

Artist Larissa Miller called the necklace “What Was Old Is Now New Again,” because she used vintage clip-on earrings and two vintage buttons to create a new look. It took her two weeks. The hours adding excruciating detail paid off. She entered the necklace in a contest sponsored by Beadwork magazine and won third place in the emerging artist category.

Miller, of Manassas, took the win as an affirmation of the risky decision to leave a job at an animal hospital two years ago to pursue her art full time.

“Oh, thank you,” she thought. “Thank you for telling me I’m doing the right thing.”

Although there are plenty of difficulties in creating interesting designs and pieces for her handmade jewelry collection, her greatest headache is the business aspect of being an artist.

Enter the artists cooperative. In April, Miller joined ArtBeat Gallery, which has a prime location at Main and Center streets in Old Town Manassas. The gallery, which opened in 2004, is one of the region’s longest-running co-ops.

Miller, 37, pays $95 a month to be a member. Some artists pay more or less, depending on how often they work in the store. A portion of their sales go to keep the store running.

The co-op provides display space and gives her a sense of belonging, Miller said.

“I’m still getting a feel for how everything works” as an artist, she said. “And you have a community of other people who are essentially doing the same thing.”

Artists want to create and sell, but getting from A to B is not easy. Miller never considered, for example, each that most of her work would be viewed by potential customers online rather than in person. (She also maintains an Etsy store.) So she took a class in how to photograph jewelry.

Soon to celebrate a decade, ArtBeat had a grand reopening recently with a new look. The store used to be laid out like a traditional gallery, but now its 19 members have their own display space. There’s more of a sense of who they are and what the art is about, many artists said.

“Part of what the success has been is we’ve been lucky enough to have a great group of people with the right personalities,” painter Gina Noelle Ash, a founding member of the co-op, said. “We all love what we do, and we believe it’s something that belongs in the community so people can appreciate local art. Not everyone wants to go into Michaels and buy the same poster everyone already has.”

A new nonprofit cooperative gallery in Leesburg is drawing the same attention in Loudoun County. Arts in the Village Gallery, in the Village at Leesburg shopping center, opened a year ago. Rebecca Kite, the former president of the Loudoun Arts Council, envisioned a space where artists could support one another and offer work that would inspire local art collectors, decorators and designers.

Interest in the gallery has grown from the artistic community, as have sales, said Amy Dyckovsky, president of the Loudoun Arts Council.

Dyckovsky, who shows her photography at the gallery, said the co-op environment has rewards and challenges. The gallery offers a prominent platform for artists to display and sell their work but also demands a time commitment from its two dozen members. The gallery is staffed and managed by the artists, who represent an eclectic variety of personalities, Dyckovsky said.

“Everybody here has a story,” she said.

As the gallery celebrates its first year this month, Dyckovsky said the co-op has hit its stride.

“We’ve worked out some of the kinks, and we have new things that we’d like to do,” she said. “We’d like to do more partnering with local businesses and more community outreach and involvement. . . . A lot of our artists also teach, and someday we’d love to be able to teach on-site.”

The gallery isn’t big enough for that yet, she said, but it still represents a step forward in Loudoun’s art scene.

“There are a lot of little galleries in Loudoun, but this is really the first of its size and scope.”

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