Amarillo, through most of this millennium, could boast of housing, in the old Sunset Center, the largest indoor art gallery in North America.
These bragging rights have been completely squashed by recent actions by the Crouch Foundation and the realities of a sixty-year old commercial structure.
The Galleries in the Sunset resulted from a decision by final owner Anne Crouch, an artist herself, to rent affordable studios to artists, some, doubtless starving. Ultimately, artistic exhibition characterized nearly the entire complex.
A major event on the city’s cultural calendar became the monthly First Friday Art Walk. Artists held evening hours for a casual come-and-go where the public viewed all forms of visual art that ranged the qualitative spectrum. Nowhere in the state offered such artistic variety and nowhere was such quantity of different art found on the continent.
Refreshments were found in many of the enclaves, and peripatetic musicians entertained throughout the big L. One of the most memorable occurred only this last February when the Opera Cowgirls from the Big Apple mixed the Grand ‘Ole and Metropolitan and probably punched a few more roof holes by their high notes.
But this cherished and unique Amarillo institution is going the way of oblivion, with the last first Friday held only last night with visitors paying their final respects to the small remnant of remaining galleries. In fact, the July event, though well-attended, had all of the excitement of a wake.
An even larger, and certainly more energetic crowd was at this final First Friday, which had the vibe of a celebration of life. A portion of the throng at the north entrance is seen in the photo. And, folk were seen carrying out a lot of artwork, as remaining gallery owners off-loaded inventory at garage-sale prices.
We will miss the kaleidoscopic coloration of Steve Cost, whether in landscape or abstraction. Steve is a talent worthy of Santa Fe’s Canyon Road, but since 2003 his gallery has nailed down the north end of the mall.
As artist Karen Herpich says, “this can’t be replaced!” She went on to say, in effect, that its existence was a serendipitous consequence of art meeting opportunity to create the largest creative melting pot under one roof on the continent.
Yet, the exigencies of the 501c3 status sought by the Crouch Foundation and the necessity of renovating a sixty-year old building consistent with code ultimately dominated the decision to probably demolish most of the complex.
Many were and are asking the pertinent question about how this action aligns with Anne Crouch’s vision and dream.
Amarillo will likely not realize what it truly possessed until it beholds a field of packed caliche where once a structure commanded the artistic attention of North America.