Money raised will go to the Taos Men's Shelter and to the Taos Education and Career Center at UNM-Taos.
Some art galleries are austere, slightly sterile-looking places. Wilder Nightingale Fine Art at 119 Kit Carson Road is blessedly different. The spacious rooms full of innovative artwork are warm and cozy. Walk-ins are greeted warmly and encouraged to browse at their leisure by owner Rob Nightingale, and affectionately meowed over by reigning gallery cat Theo.
This spirit of welcome and grace is expressed not only in Nightingale's care and regard for his long-term family of gallery artists, but also in the annual event he's hosted for more than a decade now. His "Hearts and Stars" benefit raises money to help end homelessness and provide more options for those at risk. This year's edition of the popular local art event is Saturday (Feb. 9), from 5:30-8 p.m. at the gallery. Admission is $20. Tickets for fundraising events are also available.
Money raised will go to the Taos Men's Shelter and to the Taos Education and Career Center at University of New Mexico-Taos. Jay Wood serves on the boards of both organizations. "This year's 'Hearts and Stars' is a collaborative effort between two great organizations in Taos with similar missions," Wood explained. "The Taos Coalition to End Homelessness, operating the Taos Men's Shelter, is on the front line helping the less fortunate men in our backyard, offering a hand up to men who have come to our doors with no other options. The Taos Education and Career Center, formerly known as the UNM Adult Literacy Center, helps students of all ages secure a high school diploma, prepare for college and improve their English-language skills. Both organizations share the philosophy that a rising tide brings up all boats, with the ultimate objective of improving the lives of all Taos citizens."
"It's truly amazing that the Taos Men's Shelter has invited us to partner with them in this annual fundraiser," said TECC Director Judy Hofer. "Shelter plus education, although not the whole equation, sure is a huge part of the formula for helping those most in need to have the chance for a better life."
Said TECC education support coordinator Jamie Eastman, "This benefit has allowed us to join forces with the TCEH team in a meaningful and tangible way. Hand in hand we can help build stability within our community."
"Hearts and Stars" guests will be able to enjoy live music from the popular duo of John Archuleta and Audrey Davis. There will be a silent auction featuring gift certificates and more, plus raffle prizes including a pastel work by artist Margaret Nes valued at $4,800. Those attending the event will also be treated to refreshments and great food from KOKO and the opportunity to acquire some quality artwork while helping fund worthy causes.
Rather than ask artists to donate their work, Nightingale is ensuring that participants in the show set their own pricing and receive their regular percentage of sales. The money that goes to the beneficiary organizations comes entirely out of the gallery's end of the sales.
"I didn't want to ask the artists to donate," Nightingale said. "They get asked that all the time and they give so generously. I know how easily they can find themselves giving away too much. I'm choosing to do this in the gallery, and it's important to me that they get a chance to be part of it without it being a financial burden on them. It's a chance for them to make some sales in the slow season. Gallery regulars like Stephen Day, Peggy Immel, Valerie Graves, Bob Cooley - all have pieces in this show. How I started showing Peggy was through an earlier 'Hearts and Stars' show. She entered, work sold, we hit it off. I find a lot of things happen serendipitously."
Nightingale's Taos art journey has been serendipitous from the start. He first arrived here from Chicago on San Geronimo Day (Sept. 30) in 1990. "I came out to visit a high school friend. I wasn't thinking about moving here, I didn't really know a lot about Taos. But I had studied art in college, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the variety of art. It wasn't just howling coyote pictures."
He spent just under a year working in another gallery, then opened a space on Taos Plaza with a business partner. After moving to the current space on Kit Carson Road, Nightingale bought out the partner's share and has been sole proprietor ever since.
"We've been here in this space for 23 years, and definitely seen some economic ups and downs. But I opened a gallery because it's my passion. If I were just watching the bottom line, I'd have closed 15 years ago. I'm still here."
Nightingale credits artist friend Michelle Chrisman with providing the impetus and inspiration for "Hearts and Stars." "It was a very harsh winter and we had lost some people to exposure who were living outdoors, and we knew we had to do something. Michelle had the idea, so we did it, and we've done it every year since. The feedback from the artists was overwhelming from the beginning."
"This project was of personal interest to me," Chrisman said, "because I have a brother, Mike, who had been homeless, and has spent his life struggling with mental illness. I have found that often homeless people are plagued with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc. By supporting the Taos Men's Homeless Shelter, we can help these men get off the streets, especially in winter. They will have food and a bed and fellowship. Whenever you find yourself thinking in a condescending way about a homeless person you see on the street, you might give some thought to saying instead, 'There but for the grace of God go I.' "
"I'm happy that people always come and support this event," Nightingale said. "It is an important issue, and people need to be educated about homelessness. It can literally happen to anybody. I'm looking forward to a steady stream of people having a really nice time. It's never stuffy. The gallery is big, people can mingle, sit down on the couch and enjoy each other's company, and know that they're part of something valuable and necessary."
The exhibit and sale continues through Feb. 16. For more information, call the venue at (575) 758-3255 or visit wnightingale.com.
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