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Pride of Place

Pride of Place

Pride of Place

December/January 2014 issue of American Craft magazine
RHINO Contemporary Crafts

The gallery’s acronym stands for “right here in New Orleans.” Photo: Courtesy of RHINO

RHINO Contemporary Crafts Co.
333 Canal St.
New Orleans, LA 70130

On a sticky summer evening in 1991, a group of New Orleans artists gathered – and took a leap of faith. They would take over operations of RHINO Contemporary Crafts Co., a 4-year-old gallery on Canal Street. “Our goal, at that point, was simply to keep the gallery going,” recalls Vitrice McMurry, a jewelry artist in that founding group.

Over the years, RHINO’s membership has swelled and contracted, and programming has evolved, as have artists’ expectations. The constant is the nonprofit’s impact on artists’ lives and advocacy for craft – as its name proudly proclaims – “Right Here In New Orleans.” American Craft spoke with McMurry about RHINO’s unusual model.

Perched on the second story of the Shops at Canal Street, a fancy mall, RHINO passes for any other gallery. But it’s a cooperative, run by the artists who exhibit there. How does that work?
The nuts and bolts of our cooperative model have changed over the years. From the beginning, we’ve had a board of directors composed of elected officers and advisors from the community. But when we started, we also had paid managers overseeing day-to-day operations; members served on various committees to establish policies and keep things going.

In this format, we grew to a membership of around 80. Half of those artists were making 65 to 75 percent on their sales – depending on how many hours they were working – and the other half, who were exhibiting but not working in the gallery, the standard 50 percent.

Then Hurricane Katrina came to RHINO: Our building was flooded, burned, and looted – luckily just on the first floor. The second floor was untouched, but our gallery space was locked up and inaccessible for weeks. Four months later, we re-opened for the holiday season, with only 12 members, unable to pay a single employee. At that difficult juncture, we decided we needed to be a true cooperative – with members doing everything, from cleaning to accounting. Membership now stands at 22.

So if I were an artist and a new RHINO member …
New artists are juried in. After submitting an application, they make a short presentation at RHINO’s monthly meeting. Members vote, and if the artist is accepted, they work three training days in the gallery and meet with the visual committee about displaying their work.

Each member works three full days in the gallery every month, plus serves on at least two committees. Members are also required to do at least 10 hours of outreach each year.

What kind of outreach does RHINO do?
There are monthly children’s art workshops at the gallery, which are free. RHINO also provides and staffs “art stations” for children at local festivals. For adults, we have workshops with nominal fees, taught in a variety of mediums by members at the gallery or at their studios. Those are relatively new – but they’ve been a great success. We hope to keep expanding that programming. RHINO also presents an annual fall-themed invitational show, with work by members and invited artists.

What’s the craft scene like in New Orleans?
The craft scene in New Orleans – along with the art scene – is really booming. Visitors from all around the world come to the city for its unique culture – music, food, art. And when they visit our gallery at the edge of the French Quarter, they’re thrilled to find local fine crafts, as opposed to junky imported souvenirs. We also have a devoted local following of people who attend our openings and support us enthusiastically, especially during the holiday season.

What has RHINO membership meant to you?
As a self-employed craftsperson, you can spend a lot of time alone. With RHINO, I’m part of a vital community. There is a lot of respect and love among our members – and fun; we have great openings and parties!

Julie K. Hanus is senior editor of American Craft.