Posted: November 24, 2020 Uncorking Wine, Art, and Community
“We know galleries can be very intimidating places, especially if people are somewhat new to visual art. So we try to foster a sense of welcome and a sense of acceptance,” said Jo Burke, owner of 200 Main Art & Wine. Burke’s partner in life and work, artist Terry Meyer, said, “[During the pandemic], we struggle because we can't have in-person events, and the events brought people in. But to complain about it? That doesn't help. Everybody's going through the same thing. . .it's requiring us to think in all sorts of different ways.”
Since opening in 2018, Burke and Meyer always knew they needed to think differently about their gallery in Eau Claire. Trying to be a high end or real bourgeoisie would be a turnoff to most of the people they knew. “We’re not a big city,” said Burke, “and it's hard to imagine people just wanting to come to a gallery. We knew we needed a draw.” For nearly a year, the pair worked to secure a beer and wine license, later installing a wine dispenser in the gallery. “Wine has created more relaxation, more appreciation of art, and less intimidation,” Burke said.
As retired teachers, Burke and Meyer share an appreciation for the greater good. Burke taught gifted ed, Meyer taught special ed, and both were union leaders. “We bring to the gallery a desire to make art as accessible as we can to as many people as we can,” said Burke. “When you talk about galleries, you're talking about community,” added Meyer. 200 Main represents more than 40 local and regional artists.
Inspired by the French concept of a salon, a place to gather and freely discuss ideas, Burke and Meyer created 200 Main as a space for people to gather and talk. “We’ve had discussions led by people like Dick Millheiser, one of our artists,” explained Meyer. Pre-pandemic, the gallery also hosted monthly author readings, artist demonstrations, fundraisers, and live music. Recently, Burke and Meyer coordinated a virtual event, safely live streaming a performance by a local jazz band, Sweater People. This is just one of many ways 200 Main has adapted amid COVID-19.
Since March, Burke has recorded video tours and recently launched the gallery’s online store. The store offers more than seventy gifts and pieces of art, all for less than $100 each. In addition to offering delivery and curbside pickup for art and gifts, 200 Main also sells wine online. Selling wine online was the gallery’s first innovation in response to early shutdowns. “We just thought, you know, we've got all this wine left, why don't we see if we can sell it online,” shared Burke. Although Burke says it wasn't a big ambitious thing in the beginning, customers stepped up to support the gallery, prompting them to order more and more wine each week.
This type of support and community is not new to Burke and Meyer. Fostering community has always been their top priority. “We kind of look at business in a different way. This isn't a business we started to make a million bucks, or to even make a good living,” joked Meyer, mentioning how they’re both retired. “We look at 200 Main as a way to collaborate with the community and with other businesses. I really like the idea of working with SHIFT or Tangled Up in Hue, Bijou, Riverwood, or Artisan Forge. . .we’re a group of people who just want to represent the community, and work together to do it,” Meyer said. Burke added, “If we had to shut down tomorrow, I would say the joy of this gallery is, number one, the people we've met.”
As artists themselves, Burke and Meyer created 200 Main out of their obvious love for art, but it’s so much more than a traditional art gallery. When people support the gallery, that money is put back into the community and reinvested in the local creative economy. “You can go to TJ Maxx, buy a $45 canvas, and have wall art that looks impressive,” explained Burke. “But when you invest in a piece that means something to you, from a local artist, it's a treasure that adds to your life.”
If you would like to support 200 Main—and their many artists—check out the gallery’s new online store. Some of the notable artists showcased at the gallery include Holli Jacobson, Tiit Raid, Mel Sundby, CV Peterson, Andy and Barb Shafer, Jen Hazen, Tom and Sue Weniger, Rob Romanshek, and of course, Terry Meyer.