Nonprofit Viewpoint Photographic Art Center takes a shot in Midtown
The Viewpoint Photographic Art Center is unique to the Sacramento art scene. It presents photographic works that are visually intriguing and provocative, as with its June exhibition, a pairing of photographs by Englishman Dominic Rouse and Portland-based Tamara Lischka. The artists have distinct approaches, but both poetically challenge viewers to delve into the recesses of the mind: Rouse often depicts headless women in complicated and surreal digital-composite photos, and Lischka’s work is of hands holding delicate fetuses of various species, luminated against a simple black background. Of course, interpretation, as with all art, is subjective.
What’s objective, however, is the black-and-white business side of the Viewpoint, which recently moved to Midtown from its north Sacramento headquarters of 14 years. This means increased rent, but the new space is in the heart of the burgeoning Second Saturday scene. Whether the location will provide enough exposure to stay afloat looms; it’s a risky move.
The Viewpoint, a nonprofit that generates revenue by way of membership fees, workshops, lectures and photographic exhibitions, began in 1991 as the Sacramento Valley Photographic Art Center, later swapping “Sacramento Valley” for “Viewpoint,” a moniker with wider appeal. Gene Kennedy, a tall, bearded and bespectacled photographer with a kind voice, has been the first and only executive director of the center since 2003. He explains as a nonprofit that focuses on photographic-arts education, the Viewpoint doesn’t “have to look at salability as a factor” when curating shows. This allows the gallery to exhibit photography that other galleries in town do not regularly show.
But the black and white of reality persists. At the Viewpoint’s new Midtown home, white walls glow under track lighting, complimented by a rust-colored concrete floor. A vermilion block crowns the ceiling of the room, matching the trim of the space’s windowed front wall. It’s understated yet elegant. Officially open as of June 3, the Viewpoint’s wedged between a Subway sandwich shop and a nail salon in an inconspicuous two-story brick office building in the center of J Street between 20th and 21st streets, just a half a block away from the teeming Second Saturday scene of the MARRS complex.
And Midtown’s a major change for the Viewpoint. Tucked away for more than a decade in the same building as the Sacramento Archives and Museum Collection Center off Richards Boulevard, the Viewpoint’s space there was limited, hindering its operations. In October 2007, with an eviction notice, it learned its time there was limited, too. As a nonprofit run by volunteers and its sole employee, Kennedy, they assembled a relocation committee and the search for a new space commenced.
The search ended with the J Street space. The former tenants were W Gallery & Studios, so the location already was equipped to exhibit artwork, thereby saving thousands of dollars in move-in costs, like installing track lighting. And of course, there’s the new location’s centrality, and with that the promise of foot traffic and visibility. The Viewpoint’s members were excited to sign the five-year lease for its new home. Of course, there were some gray areas: After committing to the J Street location, they learned about the 49-person capacity limit in the room, a potential obstacle during Second Saturdays.
While the Viewpoint will rely on increased exposure to pay the rent, their fate doesn’t hinge solely upon the sale of photographs. “Selling prints is an extension of what we do; it’s not our soul,” Kennedy says. The gallery’s membership “is pretty much a local thing,” he continues, though members come from as far away as Placerville, Stockton and Yuba City. He says most of the 300 members are photographers, and at present, membership fees are how the organization generates most of its revenue. Kennedy hopes to gain new membership from the move and attract some much-needed volunteers.
The Viewpoint is counting on an expanded workshop program—eight workshops this fall and approximately 40 for 2009—to keep them out of the red and in business. Kennedy worries whether people will enroll in these workshops—many destination-oriented, like to Death Valley or Yosemite—in tough economic times. “But I’m going into it with the most optimistic attitude,” he said.
With the unique opportunities for workshops, lectures, volunteering and of course exceptional art shows the Viewpoint offers, it is unlike other galleries in town. While the Midtown move may be financially risky, the pay off will be worth it, increasing its exposure to the community and the community’s exposure to the black-and-white strength of the photographic arts, like June’s Rouse/Lischka show, distinguishing the Viewpoint as a highlight of Midtown art culture.