Owner has big ambitions for art gallery to open in Downtown Madison

Evan Bradbury hopes his Downtown Madison art gallery will seed the development of more independent art galleries in the city.

There’s the James Watrous Gallery located inside the Overture Center for the Arts. And there are always exhibitions at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and UW-Madison’s Chazen Museum of Art.

But few independent galleries remain in the heart of Downtown, most having moved out due to high rents.

Carnelian Art Gallery

Evan Bradbury is hoping to see more independent art galleries return to Downtown. His Carnelian Art Gallery opens in March at 221 King St.

Bradbury is hoping to change that with his Carnelian Art Gallery at 221 King St., most recently home to an AlphaGraphics franchise. The gallery, set for a grand opening in March, includes 1,900 square feet of gallery space and 2,000 square feet of studio space, Bradbury said.

Although many of his acrylic paintings adorn the walls now, he plans to display works from a network of 14 local artists, from painters to pottery makers to jewelry makers. Pieces would range from about $200 to a few thousand dollars and would only be sold on-site, not online.

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Bradbury said he was “still working out the best approach” for the studio space, including offering space at a reduced rate as well as hosting classes and workshops. He is also entertaining the idea of having an artist cooperative occupy the space, as a group of nine artists recently did on the East Side.

Carnelian Art Gallery

A lounge area at Carnelian Art Gallery. The location has 1,900 square feet of gallery space and 2,000 square feet of studio space.

‘We want that local flavor’

The city used to have many more art galleries Downtown, said Karin Wolf, Madison arts and culture administrator. But many of them closed during the Great Recession, she said, and haven’t come back because “the price of rental space in Madison is really, really high.”

Bradbury declined to say how much he is paying to rent his Downtown space, although he has been successfully self-employed as an artist for several years, adding that his pieces retail for between $400 and $1,500.

From 2012 to 2018, Bradbury owned and operated Bright Red Studios on Ingersoll Street. That closed as Bradbury encountered a battle with a brain tumor, he said.

But “proximity spurs competition,” Wolf said. “If we support him and his model is successful, it would be great. (Galleries) tend to cluster. We want that local flavor (for Downtown).”

Carnelian Art Gallery

Two blocks off Capitol Square, Carnelian Art Gallery has taken over the space formerly occupied by an AlphaGraphics franchise.

Getting creative

Margaret LeMay, founder and owner of Marzen Gallery on Atwood Avenue on Madison’s East Side, said she considered moving Downtown within the last two years.

“The space I looked at was across the street from MMoCA,” LeMay said, but the rents were too high.

For galleries to survive these days, LeMay said, they usually must have “some ancillary business that supports them, like a frame or gift shop” or, in her case, an art consulting business. Having an online presence in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has helped her business, too.

Carnelian Art Gallery

A work space at Carnelian Art Gallery. Bradbury said he hopes to host classes and workshops in the space, or perhaps bring in an artists cooperative.

Jack Garver, who formerly owned and operated Fanny Garver Gallery for 43 years on State Street until it closed in 2015, said moving to South Bedford Street was due to changes in the art market at the time and a desire to greatly decrease rent expenses.

“During my last few years on State Street, I saw my online sales grow dramatically,” Garver said. “I was an early adapter among galleries having a website. In hindsight, I’m so glad I did this. Downtown is not what it once was.”

Bradbury said, “Above all else, the idea is for it to contribute to and serve Madison’s art scene. And the best way to do that is by listening to what this scene wants.”

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