If just the thought of a trip to an art museum gives you a dull ache in the lower spine, you are not alone.
When she was deputy director for finance and operations at the Peabody Essex museum, Susan Davy, the new co-owner of the Dragonfly Gallery in Oak Bluffs, noticed that visitors often would be forced to leave the museum prematurely simply because of physical discomfort. “For some reason there’s something about walking, and then standing still, and then walking — it’s more tiring than just walking,” she said.
Fortunately for art lovers, Ms. Davy is bringing her insights from the museum world into her new role as gallery owner. Her solution to the backache problem? Couches. Patrons at Dragonfly this summer will be able to take in the exhibitions while ensconced on comfy sofas.
In addition to being more comfortable, Ms. Davy believes the setting will also help viewers to imagine art works in the gallery as they would appear in their own living rooms, a smaller leap of the imagination than that demanded by the more standard “stark, white-walled gallery space,” she said.
Ms. Davy and her husband, artist Don McKillop, bought the Dragonfly from longtime owner Holly Alaimo this year.
The new owners say that user friendliness is a top priority as they busily prepare the Dragonfly for the summer season. Among their innovations are a monthly electronic newsletter to keep the public abreast of new artists and events, a special pre-opening viewing for established patrons of the gallery, and a more relaxed approach to weekend openings.
They plan to move away from the established model of the 4 to 7 p.m. opening, which they say can feel more like a hectic, crowded social extravaganza than an opportunity to see art. Instead, the gallery will have all-day open houses Saturday and Sunday, serving refreshments to anyone who walks in.
“We really want people to feel comfortable, to enjoy art at their leisure,” said Ms. Davy.
“We’ve added about a 40 per cent increase in the time the gallery is open,” added Mr. McKillop.
The couple also plans to host a series of artist’s talks, and to feature a running slide show of artist’s works that may be in other galleries or studios.
“We believe strongly that art is not a competitive thing,” said Ms. Davy. The couple also agrees that promoting the careers of the artists who show their work helps the gallery too.
But in addition to the innovations and small changes, the new owners are committed to maintaining the history and traditions of the gallery, situated in the heart of what has come to be known as the arts district in Oak Bluffs, a stretch along Dukes County avenue where small galleries and studios have sprung up.
“We want to bring new ideas to it, but we also want to pick up where Holly left off,” Ms. Davy said.
Mrs. Alaimo said when she decided the time had come to sell the gallery, she had just one trepidation. “My only fear was that I had a group of artists who were lined up for shows, and I didn’t want to let them go,” she said. When Ms. Davy said they would keep the gallery’s relationship with its stable of artists, Mrs. Alaimo was thrilled.
“I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like when the doors open and it’s not my place. But I could not have picked a better couple,” she said.
The admiration is mutual. “We really value what Holly’s done to promote art on the Island,” Ms. Davy said.
They met when Mr. McKillop began showing his oil paintings at Dragonfly eight years ago. A lasting friendship developed. “We just feel connected,” said Mrs. Alaimo. “We’re sort of coming from the same place.”
Mrs. Alaimo will remain involved at the gallery this summer, working a couple days a week. She said she sees the summer as “a wonderful little bridge between the past and the present.”
And by living upstairs in the gallery building, the new owners also continue a tradition of melding gallery and living space.
The gallery sprang to life 14 years ago more by accident than by design. Mrs. Alaimo, an artist, lived there with her husband, a musician, and used the space as a studio. “People just sort of assumed it was a public space,” she said. “They would see art on the wall, my husband would be playing music and they would just walk in.”
The new owners see the gallery as an extended living room of sorts.
“We entertain a lot,” said Ms. Davy. “We really like people. It’s just kind of formalizing our lifestyle, if you will.”
Dragonfly Gallery opens May 5 with a spring flower art show titled Island Bloom.