McGowan Fine Art is still open for business

McGowan Fine Art owner Sarah Chaffee carefully rolls up work to send back to one of her many artists. With moving to a smaller location, she won't have as much room for inventory. TIM GOODWIN / Insider staff
McGowan Fine Art owner Sarah Chaffee carefully rolls up work to send back to one of her many artists. With moving to a smaller location, she won't have as much room for inventory. TIM GOODWIN / Insider staff

It was a difficult decision, but one McGowan Fine Art owner Sarah Chaffee had to make.

She didn’t want to close the gallery that had been a staple in downtown Concord for almost four decades, but it’s the unfortunate reality for many small to medium sized art galleries around the country.

So back in April, at the closing reception for the show celebrating her 20 years at the gallery, Chaffee announced that McGowan would be closing.

Fast forward a few months and that has all changed. It turns out that there are a lot of people in Concord and beyond that didn’t want to see the longtime art institution close its doors.

“It’s heartening that people think I’m that important,” Chaffee said. “It was a hard choice. I wasn’t doing it to see who comes out and saves me.”

Business people offered to look over Chaffee’s books, others searched for available rental spaces to lessen the overhead and one person even offered to buy the current location and reduce the rent.

And as you can imagine, all that made Chaffee realize she needed to find a way for McGowan to live on. So after a lot of thought and research, Chaffee is going to keep McGowan open – just in a slightly different way. She announced it to the public just one day before everyone thought she was closing last week.

“I didn’t want to announce it till last minute,” Chaffee said. “But I’m going to give it another try.”

For now, the gallery will remain at its present location at 10 Hills Ave., but sometime between Sept. 1 and Oct. 1, it will move to a new space at 2 Phenix Ave. (below The Works).

It’s a smaller space (1,500 square feet compared to 2,500) with no big street side windows to show off the colorful shows and is one level and handicap accessible.

“I’m going to miss the stairs because it’s my exercise,” Chaffee said.

It’s actually on a street that was closed down during the Main Street project, and will greatly reduce the costs associated with running the business – which was the main reason it, and many other small businesses, close.

“Now that I’ve made this decision to stay open, I’m going to be leaning on people to support us,” Chaffee said. “I just want to see the business remain. It will be much more sustainable over the long term.”

The things people flocked to McGowan for will remain the same. There will still be exhibits – including a new show entitled Inertia featuring lots of new work, which will run July 18 to Aug. 25 – although the plan is to increase the length of the shows from the current five-week format.

The framing shop will still be a huge part of the business, and there will be an inventory for people to look through. There will just be a lot less on hand at all times, so there will be more rotation of it.

The plan is to add more artist demonstrations and regularly scheduled studio visits that will not only bring people in to the gallery on a regular basis, but allow for the public to see how the artists of McGowan go about their work.

“It’s a chance to reinvent who we are and how we feel,” Chaffee said.

Chaffee had planned to take the summer off, do some gardening and figure out her next step in life. She had spent the last two decades with the gallery, so a little time to think wasn’t a bad idea at all.

But now the rest of her summer will be spent going through her inventory, getting the new space in working order and preparing for a move.

“It will be sad, but I’m excited for the opportunity to reinvent myself,” she said.

But it’s worth it, because it now means McGowan is here to stay – hopefully for at least another 37 years.

Author: Tim Goodwin

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