Bay Artists Co-op - Twenty Years of Creating
The oldest artists' co-op in Mississippi will celebrating twenty years of providing studio space to some of the state's most creative people during its annual Open House in November.
- story and photos by Karen Fineran
The 20th Annual Open House/Studio Sale of the Bay Artists Co-Op (415 South Necaise Ave.) takes place November 21-22 (Saturday from 10am - 4pm and Sunday 11am - 3pm). The studio, not normally open to the public except by appointment, opens its doors one weekend each fall for an up-close look at the works of the artists inside. A wide array of striking art will be on display, including pottery and clay sculptures, paintings, and jewelry. You will have the opportunity to speak with the artists about their inspirations and techniques, and learn from live demonstrations throughout the weekend.
A cooperative simply is a business or organization that is owned by and operated for the benefit of those using its services. Started in 1994, the Bay Artists Co-Op is the oldest artists’ cooperative in the state of Mississippi. Manager and founder Regan Carney began this one, shortly after she moved to Bay St. Louis from Los Angeles in 1992. (A native New Orleanian, Carney was then working from an artist’s cooperative in L.A.’s Artist District.) Like many others before her, she was enraptured by the natural beauty, serenity, and safety of the Gulf Coast.
Now that she had found her home, she tackled the project of organizing an artists’ cooperative in this town that would help foster the growing arts community here. She hunted through town until she found the perfect building to rent, and a small group of other artists eager to share the space and form a cooperative. Other founding members included other award-winning artists like Vicki Niolet.
The artists share the monthly rent and utilities of the building (based upon the square footage of their studios inside) and may also share use of the large electric kilns inside. Over the years, the size of the co-op has ranged from as few as three artists to as many as twelve at a time, and has included clay artists, sculptors, painters, jewelry artists, and metal artists.
In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina’s formidable storm surge partially destroyed the building and completely destroyed the equipment, supplies and art works inside, Carney stepped up to the task of rebuilding the co-op. Along with some of the volunteer groups staying in town at the time, and with the assistance of grant money from the Mississippi Arts Commission, Carney and her friends and family scoured and repainted the building, and repaired the extensive structural damage to the walls and roof. (Her husband, fellow co-op artist Mark Buszkiewicz, was nearly killed when he fell from the roof rafters to the cement floor twenty feet below). About eight months later electricity was restored to the building, some of the artists whose lives had been so disrupted returned to work in their studios there, and the co-op went on.
The 4,000 square foot building surprises and welcomes on the inside with its high, open-raftered ceiling, cinder block walls, and large windows and open doorways that allow for generous sea breezes. It has an open and flowing layout, with common facilities down a wide central aisle (electric kilns, clay recycling station, storage shelves) and is sectioned off into separate work studios for each of the resident artists (including a sizeable “clean room” for painting and other mediums that may require a dust-free environment). Studio resident Sadie, a gentle-natured black cat who survived Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in the same studios, lounges about on the cool concrete floors and greets visitors.
Currently, the artists at the co-op number eight, including Carney. The other studio artists are clay artists Barney Adams, Gayle Andersson, Mark Buskiewicz, Lynne Harris and Jeanne Pertuit, and painters Janet Densmore and Kathleen Higgins.
Carney’s work has been shown at numerous galleries in Bay St. Louis, Long Beach, Biloxi and Ocean Springs, and can currently be seen and purchased here in town at Gallery 220 and Lawson’s Studio. Carney offers pottery classes (both throwing and hand building) four days per week. She recently offered a clay wind chime workshop, and is looking forward to offering her Christmas clay ornament workshop in December. Other co-op artists also offer workshops and classes; the best way to learn about these opportunities is to speak to the artists during the open house about their work and their instructional techniques.
The open house is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday at 415 S. Necaise Avenue, across the street from the St. Stanislaus football field. Refreshments will be on hand, as will live blues and folk music by Ivory Bill, featuring Billy Ray Hammons and David Sallis. For more information, contact Regan Carney at (228) 216-0210 or Regancar@bellsouth.net.