The Pence Gallery: An exhibition of resilience
The Pence Gallery has officially reopened! After a head-spinning five months of closure, three weeks of reopening, and two more weeks of closing, visitors can once again peruse the gallery (with a mask and whilst maintaining social distance, of course).
Although the gallery remained physically closed for months, director Natalie Nelson immediately transformed the Pence into an online entity, eager to offer support to the community in an entirely new form: “I felt like it wasn’t a good time as an arts organization to hide,” she expresses, “We’re here to help, and this is a time that people really need to feel connected to each other.”
Despite working in a fog of uncertainty, Nelson and staff jumped at every opportunity to reach out to the community, beginning with revamping the gallery’s Youtube channel. “Our channel had like two subscribers: myself and another staff member,” Nelson laughed, “We’ve really enjoyed trying a different format for artists.”
The new medium has allowed Nelson and staff to share at-home art tutorials—like how to work with wire, blind contour drawings, and floral embroidery—and even take viewers on virtual tours of the gallery and through scheduled exhibitions. From April 27-May 24, a Johnny Cash exhibit titled 1968: A Folsom Redemption, booked two years in advance, hung in the empty gallery, but was made available to the public via a virtual walkthrough shared on the channel.
The Pence’s channel also highlights local artists and provides viewers with a glimpse into their art-making process, such as in a feature on Sonya Schumacher’s crafting of a ceramic bird or the studio tour of Sacramento painter Anne Gregory. “Artists can also use these videos for another gallery to get a show, show people their studio, or sell work,” explains Nelson. “We’re always trying to help artists and take their work to the next level.”
Next, Nelson wants to take steps toward providing resources for the entire family. “We’re going to try now to do some things for kids through video art tours and zoom educational videos,” she says. “I feel like we have to do something for the families to help them feel entertained and connected.
Amidst all of the changes the Pence has faced over the past six months, connecting with the community has remained a top priority. If staff weren’t working on a video or brainstorming potential plans for the future, they were reaching out to the community through conversation and taking the time to listen. “We did a post early on through email saying, ‘We miss you,’ and I really meant it,” shares Nelson. “People would send me emails of what they were working on, and I tried to keep the dialogue going to let people know, ‘We’re still here, we care about what you’re doing, you are important, and we want to help.’”
For Nelson, the people of Davis influence the Pence as much as the gallery seeks to serve the public. She felt particularly moved by the community’s utilization of art throughout May and June as the insistence of Black Lives Matter swept through the nation. “Individuals who weren’t necessarily professional artists were creating murals all around the town on bedsheets, cardboard, and paper,” she shared. “And it was powerful. It’s so much rawer and more authentic than a show I could put together.”
Art unifies communities by helping us to confront important issues, and also by providing comfort and an outlet for our thoughts, which is why the Pence Gallery is looking forward to being able to once again share exhibits and creations in more tangible ways. “As of now, we have an abstract painter Sarah Post, who’s coming up in October, and then we have an installation by Chris Daubert,” shares Nelson. “I’m really hoping we can keep doing those.”
Additionally, their biggest fundraiser of the year, the Art Auction, has been transformed to a virtual presentation, although auction participants can still visit the gallery to view pieces in person. Throughout September, you can participate entirely from home, “in your pajamas if you want!” jokes Nelson. All proceeds will go to support educational programs and community outreach.
In a time of isolation and uncertainty, it’s important to have something requiring creativity to which to turn. “The number one thing that creativity helps with is your emotional health. It’s good for us,” Nelson shares. “I think all of us need an escape, but we also need a sense of hope for the future. I think art can be that.”
Victoria McJunkin is a senior at UC Davis and a regular contributor to The Dirt.