A San Rafael Gallery Balances Work and Art in a Pandemic

For nearly 25 years, San Rafael’s Art Works Downtown has given Marin’s artistic community a place to work in the county’s largest city, and provided the public a place to experience local art with its multiple gallery spaces, year-round exhibits, and creative and educational programs.

When Covid-19 shut everything down in March of this year, Art Works Downtown’s staff quickly realized it needed to change its ways to ensure its own survival and to help the community get through the difficult shelter-at-home ordeal.

“We rose to the occasion,” Art Works Downtown Executive Director Elisabeth Setten says. “We understood that communities need to stay connected through art, and to serve that need, we pivoted quickly to providing online programs.”

Those online programs include virtual art receptions—such as the Second Friday Virtual Art Walk and artist symposium happening online Friday, Dec. 11—that have replaced in-person receptions.

“Through this pivot, we’ve been able to stimulate artists to keep showcasing their work, and also give the public the opportunity to experience art at a time when emotional, mental and spiritual health is so vital,” Setten says. “Right now, it seems like more than ever we need sources of inspiration to fortify and nurture our souls.”

In addition to its own showcases, Art Works Downtown maintains its community collaborations with San Rafael groups such as Youth in Arts and Marin Society of Artists. Those organizations are also hosting online events during the Second Friday Virtual Art Walk on Dec. 11.

Setten also credits San Rafael’s Business Improvement District with keeping the community connected during the pandemic through programs like this past summer’s “Dining Under the Lights” outdoor events.

Recently, Art Works Downtown received the green light to re-open its main 1337 Gallery for limited weekend hours, and the gallery is now offering its annual “Small Works Exhibition” for in-person viewing with strict Covid-19 safety protocols and social-distancing rules in place.

San Francisco gallery owner Jack Fisher curated this year’s “Small Works Exhibition,” which showcases affordable art pieces by more than 30 local artists this holiday season.

When visitors return to Art Works Downtown, they will also see a new and vibrantly colorful outdoor mural, “Art is Work,” by Joey Rose and Alexandra Underwood, which depicts two species native to San Rafael; the California Flannel Bush and the Valley Carpenter Bee.

The “Small Works Exhibition” is also open for viewing online in Art Works Downtown’s virtual gallery, and the art is available to purchase in the virtual gallery’s store.

“Our mission is to provide an environment where art thrives for the wellbeing of our community,” Setten says. “Whether that be online in a digital universe or in the gallery—which we hope will be open more in the future—we are excited to be able to offer that.”

Art Works Downtown is located at 1337 Fourth St., San Rafael. The gallery is open Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5pm, and online at artworksdowntown.org.
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Charlie Swanson
Charlie Swanson is a North Bay native and an arts and music writer and editor who has covered the local scene since 2014.
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