“I feel like we went on a blind date and a few months later, we’re having a baby,” says Sue Finley, who is a photographer and mixed media artist, but she’s not bad with a simile either. She’s describing the formation of the Dancing Dog Gallery, a partnership of eight artists who have signed a five-year lease for the first two floors of the former Herb David Guitar Studio. (David retired this past spring, and the third floor is continuing as a guitar repair shop, now named Ann Arbor Guitars.) Finley is responsible for the name too. “We were voting on names–I think we had settled on something like City Gallery–and I mentioned that I once had a design studio in Colorado called Dancing Dog.”
“It was fun, whimsical. It struck just the right note,” says Sarah Clark Davis, a painter who often works with animal subjects. Painter Molly Indura created the gallery’s logo, a juggling dog.
The group has eight narratives about how the partnership materialized. Most, though not all, knew each other through Ann Arbor Women Artists.
Finley and photographer Matruka Sherman are both psychotherapists as well as artists. Several of the partners teach at the Ann Arbor Art Center. Painter and sculptor Sophie Grillet and Susan Clinthorne, who does “social art installations,” as well as more traditional watercolors and pastels, are both docents at UMMA. What is a “social art installation”? See her latest, called “Broken,” at ArtPrize this month in Grand Rapids–it will be at the Fountain Street Church.
The gallery will feature mainly the eight partners’ work, but they’ve brought in other artists to cover some areas they don’t, like jewelry and ceramics. They’ll also be bringing exhibits: “Hopefully artists of national stature,” says Bill Knudstrup. (Knudstrup is the only male in the group, and his style can be recognized from across the street: northern beach scenes, people in bathing suits, burning hot colors.) There will certainly be special events–the traditional wine and cheese parties, of course, but films and lectures are also possibilities. Herb David himself might give a talk about the building, which became part of the East Liberty Historic Block in 1992.
About half of the partners claim to be terrible at business. The other half refuse to cop to the cliche of the dreamy, absentminded artist (watercolorist Missy Cowan is one of them, and she briskly asks that we tell readers they can sign up for the mailing list on the website). Clark Davis says they not only had to learn the gallery business but the landlord business: they’ve rented out the small second-floor rooms where Herb’s teachers gave music lessons as artist studios.
The first floor has not been rendered unrecognizable, but it’s been slightly reconfigured, and its comfortable grunge smartened up. In early August, painters Indura and Knudstrup were doing the other kind of painting, rolling over Herb’s beat-up dark cream with alabaster and pale gray. The fortress-like counter in the center is gone. Knudstrup was building a reception desk out of reclaimed doors to replace it. Grand opening is planned for September 6, though they may be open sooner.
Dancing Dog Gallery, 302 E. Liberty, 531-6565, Tues.-Thurs. noon-6 p.m., Fri. & Sat. noon-10 p.m., Sun. 1-6 p.m. dancingdoggallery.biz
This article has been edited since it appeared in the September 2013 Ann Arbor Observer. The names of the group where the gallery’s members met, and of the painter who created its logo, have been corrected.