Phil Hellsten can't stop climbing to the roof to admire his depiction of St. Jude. He doesn't mind that only the people in airplanes have a good view.
The Pioneer Art Gallery, where he created his artwork, is more than a building in downtown Danville.
"Our artist members offer the community a beautiful, professional place to experience the visual arts," said Bill Carmel, a sculptor who is the gallery director. "We offer space for musicians to play and poets to recite. In addition we offer space for other organizations to meet and hold events."
The building, 524 Hartz Ave., formerly housed the community's Valley Pioneer newspaper - hence the name - and later the San Ramon Valley Times. It is owned by BNB Ventures, LLC, which is based in Danville and owned by Brad Blake.
"Brad Blake sponsors the gallery and the artists," said Carmel.
"Originally, a group of artists made a presentation to the Alamo Danville Artists' Society (ADAS) to manage the project," remarked Carmel. "They took the proposal to Brad Blake and we've been in the building since October 2007. At first, we were on a month-to-month basis and now, most likely, we will remain in the property until the end of March 2009."
ADAS was founded in 1977, with the goal to create art and make it available to the community, which it is now doing at the Pioneer Art Gallery. Another objective is to help fund arts education in schools.
"The really special thing about the gallery is the artists, a combination of amateur and professional," said Bill Riley, president of ADAS. "It's a half a dozen of the 45 artists practicing their art full time. It's an eclectic and amazing group of people coming together to display their art."
"The gallery offers many things," said Carmel. "Primarily it's a place where we can practice our profession. We can meet and talk and invite the public to look at what we're doing and buy art. It's a professional place for artists to show and share."
"To be part of the gallery you have to be a member of ADAS, volunteer four hours a month, and pay a fee of $35. Every six weeks the displays are changed," said Riley, a partner in California Sun Dried Foods headquartered in Danville, as well as a painter.
Virtually every square foot of the building is being utilized, including the roof for Hellsten's pixellated art. The downstairs has been transformed into space for galleries, offices, classes, meetings and receptions. The 2,310-square-foot upstairs has been converted into 10 art studios.
"You don't have to exhibit in the gallery to use the studios but you have to be a member of ADAS and pay $50 per month," explained Carmel. "The studios are full with working artists doing two-dimensional and three-dimensional art. There is an open door policy: The public is welcome to come in if the door is open."
One popular event at the Pioneer Art Gallery is jams that take place every Thursday night, from 7-10 p.m.
"Stephen Sanfilippo is a drummer in addition to being an artist," said Riley. "He thought it would be fun to get together and do music once a week.
"It's pretty amazing. One night there were nine guys playing guitars. It's a place for people to come and play with other people ... it's really cool.
"A couple of nights some singers showed up," he continued. "Sometimes Faz Restaurant sends over pizzas."
"I've met a lot of really great people who have inspired me to do what I like to do in the visual arts - it's also prompted me to once again learn to play the sax," said conceptual artist John Barry, who is also an editor.
The next exhibit is the General Membership Show, opening today, Nov. 14, displaying works of art from the members of the gallery. There will be a reception tomorrow, Saturday, Nov. 15, from 5-8 p.m. The public is invited.
The Pioneer Art Gallery will hold a sale of original artwork at affordable prices called "100 for $100" from Nov. 28-30. More than 20 artists will be selling at least 100 original pieces to the public for $100 per work or less.
"This sale represents a great chance to find holiday gifts for the art lovers in your life or to supplement your own collection," said Ranjani Mohana, a pastel artist who also does publicity for the gallery. "Also, 10 percent of all sales will be donated to the San Ramon Valley Unified School District for art programs. You can come to the event and enjoy art, music and refreshments and, best of all, help support local school arts programs."
"The Pioneer Art Gallery is a multi-use venue … it's a community of like-minded people getting together ... a community within a building of real people," said Barry.
The committed group of artists knows it will lose its current home when Blake Hunt Ventures moves ahead with its development of the property.
"We are actively looking for a permanent location for the Pioneer Art Gallery and studios," said Carmel. "But ADAS will continue to plan and promote community events that showcase the works of our local artists, support arts education in our schools, and cooperate with our local business organizations so that the arts and local merchants can thrive. We are all in this together."
Phil Hellsten summed up the situation with a Margaret Mead quote: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Visit the Pioneer Gallery
The Pioneer Art Gallery is located at 524 Hartz Ave. in downtown Danville. Gallery hours are 3-7 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturdays; 1-5 p.m. Sundays. A new exhibit opens with a reception from 5-8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 15, and the