Jeff Barnouw | Amphitheatre Drive
“The sun sets on Del Mar Art Center Gallery” read the headline of the last press release of the DMAC, (printed in the Del Mar Times of Jan 16) illustrated by a photo of a surfer on the verge of the ocean by sunset, suggesting a wondrous natural event. The closing down of DMAC after 20 years is an occasion to look back on many fine achievements and experiences, but also an unfortunate failure that should lead us to look into its various causes, not to fix blame but to understand why.
Wanting to check my own perceptions I spoke with three leaders of the Art Center, including two who go back to the early days. Kelly Villasenor is the current President but a recent member. There was considerable turnover toward the end. She talked about the difficulties encountered in keeping the new Gallery going. It is across Camino Del Mar from the Civic Center, in theory a prime location. But there was in fact little foot traffic, and construction work on Streetscape exacerbated this.
The gallery space was much smaller than the previous venue in the Plaza and cut down on the number of members who could show and help pay the steep rent. The group had enjoyed a subsidy of sorts in the Plaza by occupying for free an empty unit in a slow rental market. Even with help from the Rotary Club, the new location was unsustainable. Kelly added that a supplementary venue at Cinepolis changed its policy.
Julianne Ricksecker, who creates fine work in original printmaking, monotype, pastel and watercolor, is a long-time member but went off the board toward the end of 2019. She confirmed that her work had sold better at the Plaza than at the new gallery, but added Del Mar was never a hot market, and that galleries in general suffered from the competition of the internet. She has better results online.
Maidy Morhous, a wonderful sculptor and past president who also went off the board recently, reiterated what the others said but went further. The new gallery couldn’t accommodate “the 40 artists that we needed to survive long enough to establish ourselves. Del Mar, as a community, is aging with people who are not thinking of decorating or buying art work. We were reaching out to Carmel Valley and younger communities that could bring in sales, but we did not have enough holding time.”
Maidy said that she had not counted on the DMAC Gallery to provide sales of her work for many years but “hung in because of friendships.” She has recently joined the City of Del Mar Art Advisory Committee and hopes that this will provide new connections and directions.
Many of the obstacles that brought the DMAC down after years of mixed success and struggle were contingent factors, like the difficulty of finding an appropriate gallery space and the disruption of Streetscape, but it also seems that Del Mar is so small, compared to Solana Beach for example, that it does not have the critical mass to sustain a flourishing art scene on its own without subsidy and community support beyond commerce.