The Florence Downtown Development Corporation has decided to hit the reset button on a major cog in downtown as the corporation’s board dissolved the Art Trail Gallery’s board on Monday, citing a need to move forward with the original vision of the gallery acting as an economic engine for downtown.
“The volunteers and board have put their heart and souls into the gallery, but we needed to treat the gallery like a business. Changes needed to be made for consistency and ultimately support the operational expenses of the facility,” acting FDDC Board Chairman Karen Leatherman said. “No one will see any difference, except for improvements.”
And a new director.
David Hobbs, a longtime volunteer at the gallery and a former board member, will replace Gaye Ham.
Ham said being relieved of her duty came as a total surprise.
“I put in 30-40 hours per week as a volunteer director. We painted, cleaned and did everything we could. I’m upset,” she said. She took over when the gallery relocated in November 2012 to the corner of Irby and Evans streets.
Local artist and former board member Bob Feury said he has always been involved since the gallery opened in 2008 by volunteering and showing his own work. He said he was a bit surprised at the decision to overhaul things.
“I thought it turned out well with the resources we had. I think it’s a great idea for customers to have a full service place to come to. I would’ve liked to be asked,” Feury, who owns Feury’s Fine Art, said.
From the beginning, Florence Downtown Director Ray Reich said the ATG’s vision was to serve two purposes — support arts and culture and be an economic development catalyst for downtown.
“We felt it (gallery) needed to make downtown more of a draw, not just for Florentines but also act as a tourist attraction,” Reich said. “There were limited hours that the gallery was open. Volunteers are wonderful to help, but they only have a limited time to give. The plan all along was to become self-sufficient and it’s become less self-sufficient. It needs to operate more like a business. You have to have sales to do that, and eventually we want it to be able to stand on its own two feet.”
Hobbs will be the man asked to do that. He comes from decades of managing experience working for DuPont before he retired in 2011. He also serves as the chairman of the Florence County Planning Commission.
Working with local businesses, hosting more classes and functions are just some of the goals he has for the gallery.
“There’s always room for improvement. I’m going to help make improvements and get the ATG to be more independent. I see potential,” he said. “Things are taking off downtown, and I want to be a part of it. This is just passing the baton.”
Two new additions gallery-goers will soon see include bringing in a retailer and giving the Florence Regional Arts Alliance a new home.
Roney’s Creative Picture Framing is scheduled to set up a storefront starting in March while the FRAA will be moving in next week. Leatherman said the decision to bring in Roney’s and sign a lease agreement with FRAA will make it possible to have regular hours and be staffed by paid people. Roney’s will take frame, mirror orders on-site. Last month, owners Fran and Charles Gray purchased Kolor Quick and plan to offer enlargements, photo restoration and canvas printing and other services at the gallery.
“All of the services will be performed off-site, at Roney’s original location on West Palmetto Street,” Fran said. “I’m excited about getting downtown and in the middle of everything going on.”