Raleigh's venue woes continue: Nine days before the capital city's music mainstay, Kings Barcade, closes its doors, Bickett Gallery announced Friday it will be ending its five-year run in Five Points on May 20. The multimedia gallery has been a pivotal home for challenging art, music, dance and film in Raleigh, and its absence—coupled with the loss of Kings—presents a dire situation for Raleigh's artistic scene.
Owner Molly Miller says she is closing the gallery for financial reasons. She sold her house in 2000 and invested those profits in opening a gallery next door to her current space in the fall of 2001. She reopened at 209 Bickett Blvd. in April 2002, but the gallery rarely made profits consistent and considerable enough to last.
"David McConnell's show last year was the most financially successful show we ever had, and we're continuing to spin off from it," says Miller. "But even with how well we did—that show ran from mid-May to the beginning of July—July and August were terrible. People disappeared, and those two months killed us."
With only irregular part-time help and interns, Miller has been managing the gallery's daily operations since last year. Bickett's former gallery manager had to resign because the gallery couldn't support two salaries. When it became apparent late last year that it couldn't even pay Miller a salary, Miller began considering closing.
Miller acknowledges several factors in the gallery's consistent financial struggle, including a limited audience—or a limited audience with the means to buy artwork, at least—for contemporary work in the Triangle.
"If I had a dollar for every time someone has said 'Thank you for bringing this to the community,' I wouldn't have to do this," Miller says, adding that one prominent Raleigh realtor even told her Bickett would be more viable if its art was less provocative. "Most galleries that have been in business for years and years here show pretty safe art. But, if I'm going to work my ass off, I want it to be something I'm passionate about and believe in. And that's why I have shown the art I have shown."
Miller says that she's a risk-taker, even if that's not a spirit that's acknowledged or fostered in Raleigh, especially by the city government. Miller's differences with the city began in the gallery's second summer, when Bickett curated an ambitious month-long celebration of Raleigh's artistic, musical and cinematic past called 23 Hours. After working for months to obtain an outdoor amplified entertainment permit, Miller was finally given a permit for indoor music the day before the festival began. The outdoor portion of the exhibit was shut down by police on opening night. Similar problems have been symptomatic of a larger attitude in Raleigh's city government, says Miller, where creative ambitions are met with indifference or resistance.
"I think the city has to step up and really make it a big deal to say how important these entities like Kings and Bickett are and how much culture they bring to the community," she says. "But they don't think that's important, or at least they don't want to do it."
Miller has a contract to continue curating Bickett Gallery at Hudson, a smaller space on Fayetteville Street, through the fall. —Grayson Currin