By Emma Castleberry
In March, Odyssey Co-op Gallery celebrated five years in Asheville’s River Arts District. The gallery, which serves as a showcase for 25 ceramic artists who are members of the cooperative, was opened on March 1, 2014. Many of the artists involved in the beginning had no previous experience with running a gallery. “We were artists, focused on making ceramic art, not operating a business,” says Elaine Lacy, one of the founding members of the artist co-op that created the gallery. In addition to extensive research and hard work, the artist cooperative members were supported by Brian and Gail McCarthy, who founded Odyssey Ceramic Arts in 1994. “They allowed us to rent the gallery space at a discount for several years, and also provided great advice and support,” says Lacy. The original center of ceramic art founded by the McCarthys now includes three separate entities: Odyssey Studios, Odyssey Clayworks and the Co-op Gallery.
The early years of Odyssey were not without growing pains, including noisy, dusty construction projects that interrupted the new gallery’s traffic and parking availability. “We weren’t certain we could survive all the changes in the works,” says Lacy. “Yet our gallery has proven more successful every year, largely because we have become known to local residents and visitors alike as offering a wide variety of beautiful ceramic art at reasonable prices.”
All members of the cooperative are required to work on a committee as a part of their involvement with the business. The cooperative model is especially productive for artists, says founding member Anne Jerman. “It can be easy to become isolated in our lives and the co-op is a good antidote for that,” she says. “For the members, it is a way to stay in connection with each other, meet the public in a different way and, of course, display our work.”
What started as a group of 25 artists with a lot of love for ceramics but very little business experience has grown into a cohesive community of thriving Asheville artists. “We are an important part of the River Arts District Association—we draw tourists here and once here, we are good ambassadors for the other artists, encouraging our visitors to visit other galleries and directing them to other studios,” says Jerman. While there are unique challenges to maintaining unity among such a large group of individuals, Odyssey has managed to do so with grace. “The five-year anniversary is a significant milepost,” says Jerman. “With the encouragement and generosity of the McCarthys and the energy of our members, both current and past, we have come together, stayed together and grown together.”
For more information, visit OdysseyCoopGallery.com.