The inspiration for Bellwether came out of a small group of Yale painters living and working in Brooklyn trying to figure out how to generate exhibition opportunities. The art world was feeling a lot like a giant High School cafeteria and we were wondering how to get a seat at the cool kid table. Ultimately we decided to create our own "caf-table". As providence would have it friend and artist, Andrea Champlin, wanted to leave her Greenpoint storefront studio just as I started the hunt for an affordable live/work/gallery space. 150 Franklin Street was perfect. Not wanting to go it alone, partners were found. Three friends became obvious candidates: Daphne Fitzpatrick (a friend from Skowhegan), Matt Keegan (a fellow undergrad from Carnegie Mellon) and Simone DiLaura (fellow Yale painting alumna). Our first collaboration was to name our space. Bellwether was a word scribbled in one of Daphne's sketchbooks. When she read it we liked how it sounded but hadn't a clue what it meant. A quick thumb through a dictionary freaked us all out. Literally, a bellwether is a sheep that wears a bell and leads a flock, figuratively; it means leading indicator of future trends. What better name for an emerging artist space could possibly exist?! Once it was named we set about making it happen. We completely renovated the Franklin Street storefront. New walls, new windows, new lights�new everything. We also hired design genius Lizzy Lee to create a visual identity for us. She came up with the now famous bracket (or moustache) logo that symbolized our collaboration. We opened on a crisp November afternoon and were greeted by a flood of friends and well-wishers.
That first winter/spring we mounted our first 6 shows. A whirlwind of support and interest spun around us as we tried to establish what exactly we were. Since the four of us were artists we knew that Bellwether needed to not totally interfere with our lives in the studio, so finding time to do it all became the big issue. Finding the cash to pay the mounting bills also became an issue. We solved the money problem by hosting a benefit block party in June of 2000. Two hundred of our amazingly generous artist friends donated works to be auctioned and raffled off. We raised enough cash to get out of debt and plot our future. All of the work it took to pull off the benefit made Matt, Daphne and Simone question their roles in the business. Matt decided to leave the partnership that summer to travel and spend more time in his studio (update: Matt will receive his M.F.A. from Columbia in Spring 2004). Daphne was hired by Bob Gober to fabricate his show for the Venice Biennale. (Update: Daphne now teaches full time in the Yale Sculpture program and is represented by Brent Sikkhema Gallery). Simone was the last to split leaving me to carry on as sole owner.
September 2000 to September 2001 was an amazing period of growth and self-discovery for both the gallery and me. I ultimately abandoned our original intention of becoming a non-profit. It seemed both simpler and more helpful for the artists I was working with to try and attract collectors. That fall/spring was amazing. Of the nine shows three were reviewed in the Times and one in TONY. Bellwether was becoming more fun and successful than I had ever thought possible. We participated in the Meat Market Art Fair, collaborated with Art in General and Parlour Projects on "To be continued�", hosted "Flatfile" featuring 50ish artists and ended with the critically acclaimed "All American" curated by Ellen Altfest. 2001 brought with it another important change, my landlady refused to renew my lease. Both developments have led to Bellwether's current status. That summer I relocated the gallery to its current Williamsburg location, 335 Grand Street. The new space opened September 9th, 2001.
Present History of Bellwether by Becky Smith, Winter 2004:
It's been a glorious two and a half years on Grand Street. We survived 9/11 and its subsequent financial upheaval. We started doing art fairs (the Armory again this year). We started representing artists and having stand-out solo shows by the likes of Adam Cvijanovic, Sharon Core, Sarah Bedford, and Marc Swanson.
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