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Owner wants Duluth art-supplies store to be artists cooperative
Source: Duluth News Tribune Author:Christa Lawler Updated Date:06 May 2009

Maria Sippola has added a dose of optimism to what was supposed to be the final hurrah for Bohemia Arts.

Instead of a "Going Out of Business" party, on Friday night, the 30-year-old owner is hosting "The First Annual Going Out Of Business Extravaganza" at her art supply store at 22 N. First Ave. W.

Sippola has been announcing the end of Bohemia Arts for about six months. She dropped prices on art supplies 30-50 percent. A sign in the store window says "Goodbye, Duluth!"

The stock is depleted. A few artists collected their pieces from her walls. The landlord was notified that this was it, and Sippola was making plans for liquidation. Then, two weeks ago, she changed her mind.

"I didn't want to be a quitter," she said.

When Sippola moved Bohemia Arts to Duluth from Glenwood, Colo., she planned to run it as a business for three years, make it financially self-sustaining and phase it into an artists cooperative. Her plan included space to create art, display art, with commission-free sales, and learn art in exchange for time spent manning the store or teaching art classes. Artists involved in the co-op could purchase discounted supplies through the store.

In January, Sippola felt like she was too far entrenched in the business side of Bohemia Arts and not getting closer to her co-op vision.

"The economy was in a slump, and I was getting really frustrated doing it on my own," Sippola said. "I'm not interested in a retail business. My interest is in an art community. I wanted it to be a community business and to phase out as sole owner."

Two weeks ago, Sippola considered: Why not start working toward a cooperative now instead of closing the store, or even waiting two more years, as she had originally planned? And through word of mouth - from artist friend to artist friend - Sippola is finding people who are interested in her idea.

Kathleen Pattison, the former owner of Waterfront Artwork, is one of three volunteers at Bohemia Arts. As a painter, Pattison wants to see Bohemia Arts succeed. (Waterfront Artwork, which was in the Dewitz Seitz building, closed in 2006).

"I'm interested in keeping her store open one way or another," Pattison said. "Duluth needs an art supply store. … We've talked about different ways to keep it going. I tried to get people to volunteer at the end [of Waterfront Artwork] but just couldn't pull it off. [Sippola] is younger and has more energy."

Sippola has seen artist cooperatives. But she admits she hasn't seen a business model that works. She is putting her hopes on this being an area filled with artists. Her location is central — the Washington Studios are a few blocks away, and some art lofts are down the street. And there are colleges in the area.

Also, most cooperatives begin with members contributing financially. Things go wrong when the artists don't see immediate returns, Sippola said. But with an art supply store that can sustain itself, the members would only be asked to contribute time.

"Then there's no risk," Sippola said.

Bohemia Arts is approximately 1,700 square feet of space. The back half of the store is sectioned off for painting classes. The middle part of the store includes supplies for purchase: sketch pads and paint and brushes and frames. Sippola has paintings hanging throughout the front two-thirds of the store.

"When the store was in Glenwood, it turned into Maria's Art Therapy store," Sippola said, and laughed. "People could talk about their work. It was a social outlet for artists. We had artists who were world-renowned, and next to him was a guy who saw a Bob Ross video. I want them to sit next to each other and share knowledge."

This is exactly the sort of community she would like to build, she said.
 

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