In 2001, local artists Susan Bryant, Beverly Parker and other similarly-minded artists decided to act on their commitment to enriching the Clarksville art experience and promoting its historical downtown area. They established the Downtown Artists Co-op, bolstering what was at that time a limited Clarksville gallery presence. The DAC found the first home for its gallery above what was then Front Page Deli on Franklin Street through the generosity of Peter Olson and the local Trane Company. The DAC gallery remained in that location for two more years, until in 2004 when it moved across the street to its current location at 96 Franklin Street. Again, a local businessman (building owner, Bobby Roylance) was instrumental in helping the DAC find a home. The first feature artists to exhibit were Clare Coyle Taylor and Kimberly Santiago in October of 2004.
With a gallery staffed entirely by member volunteers, the DAC immediately established a presence. In 2003, the Co-op conceived of and instituted the PleinAir art event in the downtown area. The city soon realized the potential for such a popular event, and Doug Barber and Theresa Harrington approached Susan Bryant and Peggy Bonnington of the Co-op to manage their newly conceived event on behalf of the city. They proposed that the city reimagine and sponsor the festival. The DAC decided to relinquish control, and the PleinAir event was expanded by the city under its new name, Rivers and Spires. Soon after, the city followed with another downtown outdoor art experience: Frolic on Franklin, a fall street art festival originally developed between The DAC and the Roxy Theatre. With member art displays and a featured artist exhibit changing monthly, the DAC has been an integral part of the development of the downtown area’s art scene. The First Thursday ArtWalk has become a monthly downtown social highlight, bringing local citizens to receptions at participating businesses featuring local artist exhibits, refreshments, and often live music. At these ArtWalks, the DAC gallery’s reception is always one of the most popular.
The Co-op has also fulfilled its mission to promote the visual arts and art appreciation through various outreach projects in the community. DAC members have done art projects at nursing homes, promoted student art by displaying youth artwork, provided display space for local photographers and woodworkers, hosted receptions for visiting groups, and assisted the Arts and Heritage Development Council in the annual Plein Air Event. This event is published in national Plein air magazines and attracts Plein air artists from a large area. Twice a year the DAC sponsors juried expositions, one for photographers and one for other two and three-dimensional artwork. These expositions are open to all regional photographers and artists. The DAC conducts art workshops held in the gallery for the public and has sponsored artists’ talks, poetry and book readings, publishing parties, and other educational events. In addition, the Co-op has developed and managed mini-galleries at the local hospital and public library.
The Downtown Artists Co-op sought but did not receive 501c3 status. It has been fortunate throughout its twenty years to have benefitted from the patronage of many individuals and several businesses, all of which have helped the DAC in various ways: sponsoring exhibits, making monetary and in-kind donations, and facilitating events, such as the Annual Fundraiser Gala. While there are too many names to mention, businesses and organizations prominent among them are F&M Bank, Arts & Heritage Development Council, The Frame Maker, and Sango Wine and Spirits.
In 2020, the COVID 19 pandemic hit our nation, and the DAC was not spared. The gallery temporarily closed its doors, but the Co-op remains active. Members continue to create and collectively look for new paths to bring art to the community. With in-person regional juried expositions impossible, the DAC’s regional juried expositions became virtual juried shows. Through its website, DowntownArtistsCo-op.com, the group developed an online marketplace where patrons can purchase artwork. Gradually, the gallery has been able to open on a limited basis. With safety precautions and vaccination availability lessening the dangers of contracting the virus, the gallery has been able to open Fridays and Saturdays. Current plans are to soon be open at least three days a week. The First Thursday ArtWalk has resumed, with some safety precautions in effect.
With twenty years of providing a quality art experience to the Clarksville community, the Downtown Artists Co-op is still going strong with an enthusiastic membership and looking ahead to many more years of being a vital part of the art scene in Clarksville.