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Marin County Arts Emerges From Pandemic With Next-Gen Tools of the Trade

When COVID-19 hit the scene and closures followed in 2020, Sausalito artist Sue Averell feared bringing the term “struggling artist” to life.

Given that 95% of artists surveyed by the Americans for the Arts advocacy organization have suffered a loss of income and more than 60% are unemployed, the reality of these dire circumstances was stark, especially for physical venues. .

Averell, who has owned and operated the Sausalito & Working Art Studio gallery on Princess Street since 2017 after opening a studio in an industrial complex in the city 11 years previously, closed shop for more than three months in March 2020 in a period that “seemed like a year,” she noted.

“I needed to stay positive,” she said. “Art is therapy, so I thought, ‘At least I can make happy art,'” she said.

The 64-year-old artist practiced her craft from high school under the guidance of her influential grandmother over the years, so she wasn’t about to give up now.

Deploying the same large and bold measures as the landscapes she paints, Averell has taken to social media, uploading her thick-layered acrylic paintings to Facebook and her sister site known for its focus on photography, Instagram. After posting her first two Instagram “reels” featuring separate paintings, each received over 10,000 views within hours.

“It was amazing to know that over 10,000 people saw my artwork,” she said. One got 10,000 impressions and the other 12,000.

She ended up selling the two paintings for $3,800 and $4,200. Prices for his paintings range from $500 to $42,000.

From then on, Averell became a social media savvy which saved her business. She was not alone. Meta (Facebook) found that 57% of female-led small businesses surveyed indicated that they have turned to digital tools to help raise awareness of their business.

The results of the Meta-commissioned Global State of Small Business report released on March 22 underscore that women-led businesses have been forced to innovate and invent themselves more than ever. Eight percent more (25%) of these businesses surveyed failed than their male counterparts.

At one point when her gallery was reopening, Averell noticed that many of the people showing up in person at her 500 square foot space were medical professionals trying to escape the daily crisis.

“Even after we reopened, (almost) no one was going out, except people in health care who wanted to take a breather,” she said.

Being able to do her art has saved her own sanity during the pandemic.

“Yeah, I pinch myself sometimes because so many artists want to make a living doing their art,” she said.

But she also needed help from the federal government. She got $20,000 under a loan from the US Small Business Administration. Yet that was only about an eighth of what two neighboring male-run businesses received, and one of them was also a gallery, she pointed out. She thinks gender played a role in the shortfall.

” I could not believe it. But somehow I could,” said the veteran professional artist who has worked in San Francisco, Scottsdale and Santa Fe. She grew up in Carlsbad, San Diego County in a modest, middle-class upbringing.

Throughout her career, she remembers hanging back like a wallflower listening to art lovers look at her work, saying, “Look at her work.” Some people assume that most artists are men, she insisted.

When retail finally opened last year, the gallery saw more foot traffic than in 2020. But activity has yet to reach pre-pandemic levels in 2022.

And she is looking for other places. Averell has just been selected to exhibit her work at Art Market San Francisco, a three-day international event to be held at Fort Mason beginning April 22.

Sausalito is known for being an international tourist destination, much of its success is due to foreign visitors who have yet to show up at pre-pandemic levels. But she expects them to.

When they do, Averell has found another new place to exhibit his work. The Sausalito Chamber of Commerce opened a visitor center that offers retail items for sale in its El Portal office in April. The outlet features works by 27 different artists, including paintings by Averell.

“We wanted to keep Sausalito’s arts culture alive,” said chamber president and CEO Juli Vieira, adding that the new business is “doing very well.”

This is despite the international visitors that Sausalito is known to be trickling in due to the pandemic and changing the dynamic of who frequents the city.

Now Vieira’s estimated attendance is dominated by domestic or regional visitor 9 to 1 compared to international. Five years ago, this ratio would have fallen to 40-60%, national against international.

Susan Wood covers law, cannabis, manufacturing, technology, energy, transportation, agriculture, and banking and finance. For 27 years, Susan worked for various publications, including the North County Times, Tahoe Daily Tribune and Lake Tahoe News. Contact her at 530-545-8662 or [email protected]