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Mixed Medium, Clear Message

By David Boegaard

In the heart of Pensacola, FL., a group of painters, sculptors, potters and other artists have gathered together to form the Blue Morning Gallery. Founded in 1997, Blue Morning is a cooperative gallery created to showcase local artists and support student artists. Today, Blue Morning shows more than 50 artists, forming a diverse collective with eclectic approaches to classical and modern themes. With a scholarship to support student artists, classes for the public, and participation in events that are practically celebrations, Blue Morning has made itself a central hub of Pensacola's artistic community.

Blue Morning Gallery is not just another standard gallery. The collective has found that the success of the wider community is essential to Blue Morning's continued success. In order to thrive, Blue Morning is oriented around a few pillars, suggests Jim Sweida, a photographer with the collective. "A successful community offers a solid educational system, strong economics, and a thriving arts scene that enriches their daily lives." These principles form the heart of Blue Morning's work.

Blue Morning uses classes as one of its primary methods for bringing people together and introducing them more deeply to the arts. The collective has offerings covering nearly any kind of visual art one could want to create, suggest Sweida, from "beginning to advanced painting, iconography, classes for children, Scout art badges and an annual Santa's Workshop for children." Recent favorites include a class by nationally syndicated cartoonist Steven Butler, notes Sweida, as well as a two-day figure drawing class focused on the "classical techniques of Old World Florence."

These classes don't just bring the community into Blue Morning Gallery, they also serve to really introduce local artists to the community. "Our member artist and select visiting artists teach the classes at Blue Morning Gallery," says Sweida.

Blue Morning's focus is on artists, and that includes student artists still finding their way in the larger world. Especially as they are setting out, the artists' life can be a difficult one. That's why Blue morning created the Visual Arts Scholarship. "The artist members of Blue Morning Gallery believe it is most important to also encourage student artists," says Sweida. "As such, the members fund an annual Visual Arts Scholarship through the University of West Florida."

Each summer, Blue Morning awards the scholarship to a upcoming UWF Senior. "In addition to the significant financial award," notes Sweida, "the Gallery provides publicity, a one-month Spotlight display in the Gallery, and a reception for the artist." What an opportunity this can be in the life of a developing artist.

It's the solid economics, though, that are what make the Blue Morning such a great place for seasoned artists. The 54 artists that compose the collective are dedicated and many have been with the gallery for many years, forming a strong community of artists. "This low turnover is due to the financial support of the art enthusiasts of Pensacola," says Sweida. The larger community of art lovers is essential to the health of the individual artists and the collective. When the community supports the artists' work, artists flourish and stay with the collective.

In order to create such a thriving community, Blue Morning "provides member artists and visiting artists maximum exposure to both local and visiting art enthusiasts and consumers," notes Sweida.

As if their plate were not already full enough, Blue Morning Gallery also participates heartily in a variety of events. During the monthly Gallery Nights event, Blue Morning presents its Spotlight Artists Exhibit, as well as live music and refreshments. It's a great mixer, and a great way to bring the community together. Often the event draws as many as 15 to 20 thousand people. Blue Morning also participates in a weekly Farmers Market, and to the Wine Walk, an opportunity to view art and sample boutique wines. "What better place to sample wine," asks Sweida, "than surrounded by wonderful art."

Blue Morning set out to do things differently. That's clear from the bold work on display, and from their engaged approach to the Pensacola art community. "Blue Morning Gallery has become a recognized leader in the visual art scene for Pensacola," Sweida notes with pride. It's no surprise, then, that the Gallery has been named "Best Art Gallery in Pensacola" by the Pensacola News Journal for the last three years, running. Come by and see what everyone's talking about.

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