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Jondi Gumz, Reporter at large: First Friday art tours build gallery audiences; next one tonight

August 3, 2007

Jondi Gumz, Reporter at large: First Friday art tours build gallery audiences; next one tonight Tina Marie Bowlsby makes it possible to bring your Boardwalk memories home with you.  Her painting of the Boardwalk is at Santa Cruz County Bank, which is hosting an exhibit celebrating the amusement park's 100th anniversary through Aug. 30.

The gallery is on the First Weekend Art Tour, which takes place tonight, Saturday and Sunday. Details on that later. Bowlsby's 5-foot-wide watercolor is a horizontal view from the beach. Something about the geometric patterns of the Ferris wheel and roller coaster against the blue sky caught my eye. It's not just me.

Steve John, owner of Ocean Honda, bought the painting before Bowlsby finished it. She knows John because their children go to school together, and she figured he would appreciate it.

Bowlsby, 50, daughter of a watercolor artist, loved art but didn't think she could make a living at it. So she worked in sales and marketing in Silicon Valley instead. Nine years ago, when she realized visual images were what excited clients, she decided to paint full time. She had to give up Silicon Valley perks like her health club membership and the nanny for her daughter. 

When she had painting to do, she made a deal with her daughter: If she would be quiet and let mom paint, they would take a trip to the golfing range.

Her teen daughter has become a talented golfer, and Bowlsby has crafted a career as an artist. You can see her paintings at the bank, buy her greeting cards at Palace Arts or get more information at www.tinamarie.net  The bigger picture here is that artists like Bowlsby are getting more exposure in Santa Cruz because of ventures that bring art and commerce together.

The gallery at the 3-year-old Santa Cruz County Bank has a waiting list of artists. Bank Vice President Mary Anne Carson said the shows have been good for business, in terms of visibility and new banking relationships.

They've also been good for artists. At the bank, 13 pieces from the Boardwalk show have been sold for a total of $13,795. The bank is one of a dozen gallery stops on the art tours the first Friday of each month. The tours, started two years ago to build an audience for art and give artists more exposure, have spiked in popularity since bus service was added in April, organizer Kirby Scudder said.

Full disclosure: The Santa Cruz Sentinel is one of the sponsors. Buses depart from the galleries every 20 minutes enabling visitors to see as much as they want without a parking hassle. I haven't been on the bus, but Scudder said about 800 people are touring the galleries and up to 200 take advantage of the bus service.

Carson said she's seen "new faces," people who hadn't come to the bank's art receptions, creating a buzz in the air about the artwork.

That buzz can be good as gold for artists. Scudder doesn't have hard numbers on sales, but he reports a spike in art sales at most of the participating galleries.

Some sales have taken place during the Friday night tour, when each gallery offers a 10 percent discount, and others when visitors return later in the week.

Some galleries had not sold any work before, Scudder said, and now they are selling every month. Last month, the new Beauregard Wine Lounge, which has a gallery at the end of the wharf, had more than 50 people stop by for First Friday and the 17th Avenue Studio sold more than $5,000 worth of art.

I'm not surprised to hear that Santa Cruz County Bank is scheduling its next art reception for Sept. 7, to coincide with First Friday. The show will feature Geoff and Jenny Morten, husband and wife who have art studios side by side in their home in Aptos. So when's the next art tour? Tonight from 5:30-9:30 p.m.

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