Lander cooperative promotes local artists
A cooperative designed to help local artists exhibit and sell their work celebrated its one-year anniversary in November 2016.
Alchemy promotes and sells the creations of its artist-members. In turn, the members each contribute their time to operate the cooperative’s gallery, which is located at 320 Main St. in Lander.
Alchemy organized as a for-profit entity, but it isn’t designed to make money for itself. Rather, the cooperative model allows artists to take 100 percent of the sales from their work, minus credit card transaction fees. Monthly membership dues cover operating expenses.
Jeni Vander Voet, the group’s treasurer, said each member serves on one of several committees and commits to working several hours a month for Alchemy. “It has really worked well,” she said. “The reason for the cooperative was to have all hands on deck and not have a lot of overhead.”
Alchemy works collaboratively with the Lander Art Center, which rents the entire building that houses Alchemy. Alchemy, in turn, rents from the Lander Art Center.
The word Alchemy refers to a medieval notion of converting less valuable metals into gold. “We loved the meaning of the word alchemy,” Jeni said, “making something ordinary into something extraordinary.”
Items on display include paintings, pottery, wood pieces, jewelry, and fiber arts that range from small gifts to collectible pieces. Because artists work in the gallery, they often can answer customer questions about the inspiration, techniques, and materials that were part of the creative process.
Member Dannine Donaho exhibits her paintings and screen-printed pieces in the Alchemy gallery. “This is something that customers have asked in the past when I sell at craft fairs. ‘Where is your store?’” Dannine said. “In the past, I have had to say that I had no store. Now, I can cite Alchemy as the store that holds my inventory, available five days a week.”
Dannine called the cooperative business model “fantastic” since it allows artists to maintain a retail shop presence without the necessity of working daily at the site to keep the doors open. “Alchemy artists work together by working in the store, reserving time for all to continue creating,” she said. “This is very important, and I consider it the magic of Alchemy.” From a business standpoint, Dannine added that she had increased her monthly income each month since Alchemy opened.
When forming the venture, the Alchemy group turned to the Wyoming Small Business Development Center Network for assistance. “We really wanted to just make sure we were covering all our bases on things available to us through that program,” Jeni said.
Susan Jerke, the SBDC’s regional director for northeastern Wyoming, helped Alchemy set up its business structure and write a business plan. Sarah Hamlin, SBDC business advisor, assisted with marketing and day-to-day questions. Rob Condie, SBDC’s regional director for Lincoln, Sublette, Sweetwater, and Unita counties, advised the group on the use of QuickBooks.
“I’m the treasurer, but by no means do I have a finance background,” Jeni said. “So it has been a challenge for me. It’s really nice to know there is support out there.”
As an Alchemy member, Lander painter Rosie Ratigan enjoys meeting people from all over the world who visit the gallery, and the visitors like meeting the artists. “So it’s not something that was made in China. It’s hand-made in our hands, and people like that. They like meeting the artist and getting to know you,” she said.
The SBDC has provided assistance for Rosie in her own business, Rosie Ratigan Fine Art. ”I don’t know what small businesses like us would do without SBDC to help us,” she concluded.
Click on the “success stories” to the right to learn how other Wyoming businesses have succeeded in the Cowboy State.