After six years on the 300 block of First Street, Gallery 621 has reopened its doors at 920 First Street, Suite 203.
An opening reception celebrating the move is planned for Saturday, November 6, from 4:00 to 7:00pm. The Gallery features an eclectic group of contemporary artists working in a variety of media, including painting, printmaking, and sculpture. The new, spacious location above Olson Realty provides the gallery’s 16 artist members with twice the space for displaying art, with opportunities to display more three-dimensional art, which is often best viewed in the round.
“We were surprised and disappointed not to be able to continue leasing in our former location,” said Nikki Basch-Davis, a long-time member, Benicia artist, and coordinator for the gallery, “but our new home is larger, very elegant, and gives us a chance to show larger artwork. That really wasn’t possible in the other location. And it’s our hope to create another focal point on First Street with St. Paul’s Church, the lovely park, One House Bakery, and other businesses thriving here. We want to add to that.”
Gallery members learned in late June that the lease would not be continued past the end of August.
Despite searching for a number of weeks and reaching out to multiple realtors, no suitable spaces were found among the first-floor storefronts, as many sufficiently sized spaces had been recently rented as pandemic restrictions eased over the summer. “We weren’t looking for a second-floor space,” notes Basch-Davis. “We won’t have the same sort of walk-in visitors that we had before, but our goal is to become a destination for those that love and collect art.”
Founded in 2009, Gallery 621 takes its name from its first location at 621 First Street.
Founder and artist Pamela Dixon not only brought together a core group of the very best artistic talent in Benicia, but also helped create exhibitions that brought exceptional artworks and artists to Benicia. Basch-Davis, Linda Stevenson Dunlop, and Jerrold Turner, all still members, were part of that core group. Five years later, however, as the building changed hands and rents increased beyond what the gallery could bear, the gallery was closed, and the group split up. Before long, however, Benicia developer and arts supporter, Phil Joy stepped up with an offer of rental space at 309 First Street for the displaced artists. “Phil could have gotten more money to rent the building, but he really wanted to support us,” recalls Basch-Davis. “Having his help at that time was extremely important.”
Membership continued to grow to as many as fourteen artists by the year 2020, when the gallery’s existence was threatened again by the COVID-19 pandemic-related closures. With no revenues from the closed gallery, membership dwindled to as few as seven artists. Again, the community responded with support, helping the gallery make ends meet until restrictions eased and membership could grow again. “It was a heartwarming affirmation from our community,” says Basch-Davis.
These recent experiences have motivated a group of artists to form the Artist Alliance, with the goal of creating a conversation with Benicia leaders about how supporting the art community will help make the town and tourism thrive.
Part of the discussion is about ensuring that a certain percentage of street level addresses be available for art and other visitor-dependent businesses. The group is studying the examples set by Napa, Carmel, Sonoma and other cities for relevant ideas. “Benicia advertises itself as a destination for art, but we’re in danger of losing the artists and art galleries if we don’t make sure they have a home,” said Basch-Davis.
Gallery hours are Thursday through Sunday from 12 noon to 6pm. More information about the gallery and its artists is available at gallery621.com