Detroit Performs: Take us through the evolution of 16 Hands Gallery:
Jill Damon – Owner, 16 Hands Gallery: 16 Hands started out as an artists collective, showing only the work of its 8 artist-owners (from 4 different countries) in 1975. I joined the cast of characters in 1978. When the co-op dissolved in the mid-80’s, my then partner and I began hosting bi-monthly themed exhibits as well as selling work from local artists and purchasing work from 40-50 American artists and crafters to sell at 16 Hands . I became sole owner in 1988. I opened a second gallery in Birmingham, called Artful Domain. There I was able to show larger sculpture, paintings, art furniture and fine crafts. I closed it in 1991 and moved 16 Hands to a large space on Main Street in Ann Arbor. This allowed me to have rotating shows and still display larger handcrafted furniture, lighting, garden sculpture, wall art in a variety of media, as well as a huge selection of jewelry and personal accessories, functional crafts and gifts. About 90% were American made and the rest were from Canada, Europe, Scandinavia and Central America. This continued for more than 20 years. Rising operational costs and a lousy economy caused me to close the Main Street location in 2010 and move to the historic Kerrytown District, where we are today.
DP: How has the evolution changed your business model?
JD: Our focus is now primarily on functional crafts, artisan made jewelry and personal accessories, and imaginative gifts rather than one-of-a-kind paintings and other ‘wall art’ and sculpture. What we do have in common with traditional galleries is we value creativity immensely and see it as essential and life enhancing. We expose and educate people about art and fine crafts – how things are made, the makers themselves, principles of art and design, as well as practical concerns like how to care for their purchases.
DP: Why take on this philosophy for the gallery?
JD: We truly enjoy helping people appreciate handcrafted objects and learn to trust their visceral responses to them. People are often intimidated by museums and galleries, but functional handcrafted pieces are more approachable and familiar. I like to think (first exploring 16 Hands Gallery) will make people feel more comfortable and confident about going to museums and fine art galleries and exploring other forms of creativity.
DP: How do you choose what you curate?
JD: I’m often asked how I decide which artists and makers to show at 16 Hands. When I chaired the selection committee of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, many years ago, we asked the jurors to consider four elements – design, color/texture, technique, and originality. Those are still huge factors for me, and I also really like work that uses materials in unexpected ways – or is humorous – and pieces that express my values outside of the arts: The importance of a diverse and inclusive community, social justice, sustainability, reverence for the environment, mutual support over competition, non-violence, gratitude, and hope among them. I won’t show or support anything that portrays a negative or hateful message.
DP: What can your visitors get their hands on at 16 Hands Gallery?
JD: Quite often visitors to 16 Hands are looking for special gifts and we make sure to have a big selection of those. People often tell us that we are their ‘go to’ place for the best gifts. It’s definitely a one-of-a-kind shopping experience. Some stop by for inspiration, or just a serenity break from a stressful day. Whatever the reason, we make sure there is always something new to see and interact with; something to pique their curiosity or light a creative spark, and of course, the perfect gift.
DP: What do you enjoy about the Kerrytown location?
JD: Our space there is wonderful, with great natural light, but with only 960 sq ft. and very little wall space there is no room for large shows. They can also be very costly. So I decided to concentrate on smaller, functional crafts, jewelry and original gifts; now about 85% is American made, 14% from Canada, Europe, India, and Fair Trade organizations, and 1% that is mass-produced.
Now, instead of large, rotating exhibits we are hosting smaller events like trunk shows, artist demonstrations, and showing videos of artists at work. We are also partnering with other businesses (the Neutral Zone teen center, Rainbow Rehabilitation, several public schools) to showcase young musicians and artists, and artists with disabilities. Dates for most of these have yet to be confirmed but you can find out more at 16HandsAnnArbor.com or facebook.com/16Hands.
DP: Are there any confirmed events to share?
JD: One regular event I would like to publicize is First Fridays in the Kerrytown District. It involves 15-25 shops, eateries, and art venues extending their hours on the First Friday of every month and offering special events of some sort including demonstrations, trunk shows, tastings, show openings and more. The next First Friday event at 16 Hands, we will be showing some of our favorite episodes of DETROIT PERFORMS.
DP: Why do you love being a gallery owner?
JD: I love being part of the circle that provides a place for artists and makers to sell their work, which thereby allows them to continue creating. We display and present their work to the public, we educate and share the artists stories, the creation finds a new home, items are purchased and the story continues to be told, buyer and recipient (if it’s a gift) feel joy and awe and making it a part of daily life, they are more likely to purchase art handmade and experience more of the arts in the future, supporting more artists and the community as a whole.
DP: What are your mottos you’d like to share with the Detroit Performs viewers?
Just because something is functional, doesn’t mean it can’t also be beautiful and life enhancing.”
“Work hard and have fun doing it and always strive to create a work environment where that thrives.”
DP: Why are you so passionate about giving artists and makers somewhere to share their work with others?
JD: Every artist and maker has a story, as does their work. My job – and my honor – is to spread that story and the value of art and handmade objects. My hope is it will create a ripple that encourages increased support for the arts in our community.