Mistlin Gallery shutting down; Modesto arts group's future uncertain

More than five years after opening, downtown Modesto's Mistlin Gallery will close at the end of August because it can't pay the rent.

The nonprofit Central California Art Association, which runs the gallery, will continue to exist and will rent another permanent space or rent space as needed for art shows.

The association board announced the news to about 50 members and others at a sometimes heated meeting at the gallery Monday night.

"We are in a difficult spot and we need to make a transition," said Brad Hawn, association president and a Modesto councilman.

The 5,400-square-foot gallery sells local and out-of-town artists' work and holds art classes for children and adults. It is a major stop in downtown's Third Thursday Art Walk.

The art association, which was founded in 1951 and has about 300 dues-paying members, previously was based in the basement of the McHenry Museum.

"It's too bad," said Carl Anderson, who owns Anderson Custom Framing and Gallery, which is part of the art walk. "It's pretty hard to be an art group without having a space. Hopefully, they'll land on their feet."

He added that the closure will make it harder for local artists to find places to show their work.

Jennifer Williams, co-owner of Crow Trading Co., another participant in the art walk, said the closure is unfortunate.

"The area needs a good art gallery that is a public forum," she said. "Private galleries are wonderful and needed, of course, but it's wonderful for the community to have a gallery."

Rent for the gallery until recently was $5,000 a month, with expenses (including staff and air conditioning) matching that. Art sales and fees never generated enough to cover those costs, association board members said. The gallery hung on this long largely because of donations from the estate of Edna Mellis, the Mistlin Foundation and the Hawn family, board members said. But the estate income is limited and the other two donors have cut back because of the recession.

The landlord, Civic Partners, reduced the rent to $1,000 a month a few months ago to help the gallery, with the understanding that the reduction was temporary and that the gallery eventually would have to move.

Several people at Monday's meeting expressed displeasure that the art association ever rented the gallery.

"I knew this was not a viable situation financially," said Alice Richards, a former association president.

She and others were angry at Hawn and other board members for advocating moving into the gallery. Before walking out during the meeting, she said she felt members' voices were ignored.

The board holds annual elections to elect officers, but only board members, not association members, get a vote.

But Hawn said he repeatedly has asked association members if they want to run for office and no one has stepped up. He said Monday that he would step down that night if someone wanted to take over as president, but no one volunteered.

There was no talk at the meeting about the gallery moving back to the McHenry Museum basement. In 2003 when the move to the Mistlin space was decided, the museum said it wanted the gallery out because it needed the extra space.

Since the move, the art association has raised its standards to being a more professional organization, Hawn said. Some members said they wanted the art association to return to being a more community-based group that focuses on networking and mentoring for artists.

"We need to think about pulling artists together," said Cy Cochran, a former president of the art association.

Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at 578-2313 or