1078 plus 20

Chico’s most adventurous art gallery celebrates two decades and more than 200 shows

BIGGER THAN LIFE The 1078 went dark for Kam Jacoby’s 1993 photo exhibit.

BIGGER THAN LIFE The 1078 went dark for Kam Jacoby’s 1993 photo exhibit.

Courtesy Of 1078 Gallery

Caen do: The 1078’s first wine auction, in 1986, featured a “Herb Caen wine and cheese selection"--a bottle of T.J. Swann apple wine, some Velveeta cheese and a “mystery bottle.” It sold for $25. The “mystery bottle” was a 1975 Moet & Chandon champagne.

When it’s empty, Chico’s 1078 Gallery isn’t much to see: a plain rectangular storefront space with a glass-brick wall facing West Fifth Street. It’s like a blank sheet of paper or, to use a more fitting analogy, an empty canvas.

The gallery is rarely empty, however. If you were to put a time-lapse camera in one corner and distill a year’s activity into an hour or so, it would document a rhythmic and constant pattern of change and activity: walls being painted and repainted in all different colors; paintings or masks or quilts being hung and taken down; sculptures of all descriptions being moved in and then out; crowds arriving for opening receptions, men and women and teenagers and, surprisingly often, children, all of them talking animatedly and admiring the work; quieter periods, when maybe two or three people are in the gallery, carefully studying the pieces and talking softly; and then the gallery empty again except for the director, who studies the room, trying to picture how once more to transform this blank sheet of paper into something splendid.

Imagine this taking place over 20 years and well over 200 exhibits involving hundreds of artists and thousands of viewers, and you get an idea of just how important even a humble space like the 1078 Gallery can be, especially if it’s used well.

And, by every measurement of these things, the 1078 has been used exceptionally well. Despite being a nonprofit gallery that has never had a completely dependable source of funding, it has led the way among Chico galleries in showcasing local artists as well as bringing in outstanding artists from elsewhere.

In the process it has become almost legendary among small, grass-roots galleries in California. It’s the smallest visual-arts gallery in the country to receive funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the California Arts Council often cites it as an excellent model of what can be done in creating a grass-roots, community-based art gallery.

Now, as the gallery is gearing up for its 20th-anniversary exhibit, which opens with a reception tomorrow (Friday, Nov. 29) evening at 7 p.m., many of the people who’ve worked so hard to keep it going all these years are looking back and marveling at how much they’ve accomplished—not to mention simply surviving so long.

How poor was the 1078? Lynette Krehe, who was co-director of the gallery for several years and then its sole director for nearly a decade, remembers when, early in the gallery’s history, a woman from the neighborhood showed up at the front door, shivering and covered in blood, and asked to use the phone. Her boyfriend had beaten her up, she said. “Sorry, we don’t have a phone,” said the gallery attendant. Truth was, the gallery couldn’t afford a phone.

Then there’s the time a couple of the gallery’s directors drove to San Francisco to pick up some art to bring it back to Chico and then got caught in a driving rainstorm on the way back and almost went off the road, with their thousands of dollars’ worth of cargo. Why were they driving? Because the gallery couldn’t afford to have artwork shipped.

“Ol’ Bummer Mask,” by Rick Bartow (1991).

Courtesy Of 1078 Gallery

Nobody ever got paid, at least not until 1997, when there finally was enough money to give the director a small salary. For 16 years, the 1078 Gallery was strictly a labor of love, with emphasis on the word “labor.” Every show took a huge amount of work, from selecting the artists and getting the artwork to the gallery to prepping the space, hanging the show, holding an opening reception, arranging for attendants to be present during gallery hours—the list is long.

What keeps such an effort going year after year, if not love? Love of art, love of artists, love of Chico and its artistic community.

It all began back in 1981, when a young artist named Greg Arnett was living in one of the live/work artists’ apartments carved out of the legendary but by then defunct Odyssey nightclub, located at 1078 Humboldt Road, on the edge of Chapmantown. The building was owned by an artist and art instructor named Val Zarins, who’d turned the nightclub into a phantasmagoria, a dark, labyrinthine space with flexible silver tubing hanging everywhere. It was like being in a dive bar from another galaxy.

When Zarins left Chico, he turned the building into artists’ rentals. Arnett got the idea of transforming an unused part of the space into a gallery—and, with the help especially of two other artists living there, Al Kreuger and Richard Deane, did so.

At first the gallery was a kind of artists’ co-op, in the sense that it was available to anyone who wanted to put on a show and was willing to rent the space and do all the work. For about three years that’s how it operated. Because of its location, it didn’t attract much in the way of foot traffic, but the opening receptions were wild affairs, huge parties that spilled out into the Chapmantown night.

For the first time, Chico’s many young artists had a gallery they could call their own, one that had the courage to show provocative, even radical works and that had no commercial fetters tying it down.

Then, in the fall of 1984, Arnett called a meeting of local artists. He was leaving town, he said, so others needed to take over if the 1078 was to survive. About 30 people showed up. Six volunteered to be co-directors: Krehe, Michelle Davis, John Ferrell, Matti Auvenin, Mary Gardner and Susan Larsen. Jan Spencer joined them two years later. It is this hardy group whose work, along with Arnett’s, will be featured in the 20th-anniversary exhibition opening this weekend.

The new directors took greater control of the gallery, deciding what the shows would be and mounting them. They began looking farther afield for artists and attracting name figures from the Bay Area, like painter Peter Almeida and sculptor Colin Gray.

They knew, though, that they needed a new facility. The 1078’s location wasn’t ideal, and there were other tenants. The directors had inherited Arnett’s role as property manager, which meant keeping the place running—no easy feat with such a funky building—and collecting rents from a bunch of largely unemployed artists. Then there was the tenant who’d allowed about a dozen teenage runaways to crash at his place. The hassles were endless.

PART AND PARCEL Much goes into putting on the 1078’s shows. Co-Directors Michelle Davis (left) and Lynette Krehe prepping the gallery

Courtesy Of 1078 Gallery

The gallery moved to its present location, at 738 W. Fifth St. near Cherry, in 1986. The site required major remodeling, almost all of which was done by volunteers. Krehe’s great-uncle paid for the track lights, thinking they were for her house.

By this time the gallery had proven itself enough to begin attracting money—first $500 from the Butte County Arts Council to put on a teen art show, then, in 1986 or’87, a $2,000 grant from the California Arts Council, which liked “how culturally and demographically diverse” the gallery was, say Krehe.

The city of Chico later gave the group some money, and in September of 1990 it got its first NEA grant.

By this time all of the original co-directors had moved on to other things, except Krehe. Ferrell, who is her husband, was still around to help out, but for the next nine years she ran the gallery. Fortunately, she and Ferrell had a studio in the back room, so it was convenient.

“Lynette sacrificed a big chunk of her life doing the gallery,” says Michelle Davis, one of her early co-directors.

“You just don’t know how to get out,” Krehe says with a laugh. She also credits the interns from Chico State University with being of great help. “We always got awesome interns,” she explains.

Other sources of income began to emerge, chief among them the group’s annual wine auction. Krehe and the other co-directors especially credit Carl Data, who helped organize the auction and donated many wines, and Juan Cole, then owner of Mangrove Bottle Shop.

Today the gallery operates on an annual budget of about $35,000, with which it puts on about 10 shows a year. The list of artists who’ve shown at the gallery is long and impressive, and its shows are regularly featured in Artweek, the magazine of West Coast art. “You can’t even look at Artweek without seeing the name of someone who showed at the 1078,” Krehe says.

Artists like to come to Chico, she explains. It’s like a mini-vacation for them, and they enjoy the people who come to the shows. Chico folk are unpretentious and yet truly interested in the artwork, and the artists enjoy that.

The 1078 began 20 years ago as a showcase for young artists’ work. Its shows were provocative, experimental, risk-taking. That hasn’t changed, Krehe says. It’s just that the gallery now belongs to all of Chico.