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Gallery on mission to extend art’s reach in Columbia

Gallery on mission to extend art’s reach in Columbia

Got art?

No? Don’t “get” art?

What if “getting” art were so easy that all it took to form an opinion was to look at it four times a year? It is that simple, according to Jennifer Perlow, co-owner of Perlow-Stevens Gallery.

PS: Gallery owners, Jennifer Perlow and Chris Stevens with Joel Sager's self portrait.

“We change the work every three months,” Perlow said of her downtown gallery, which was one of five finalists for the 2009 Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year Award. “My hope is that people come in every quarter, look around, view the work at their own pace. By the end of the year, they will have an opinion about art.”

Easy for her to say: she owns a gallery. What would she know about being a true art novice? Well actually, quite a lot. Perlow is not an artist. She majored in psychology and enjoyed a lucrative career as a pharmaceutical rep before opening PS: Gallery.

“If I can appreciate it, why can’t everyone else?” she asked. “Art in and of itself is not intimidating.”

Perlow grew up primarily in Texas and Columbia, never living more than three years in one house. Perlow’s first taste of art was in her pre-teens when she started helping her mother at a ceramics studio she ran in Texas. Her art sales résumé includes setting up a booth in front of a Walmart and hawking the goods.

From left Chris Stevens, Jennifer Perlow, Sarah Welch-Taylor and Joel Sager review submissions to the gallery.

After college, Perlow established herself in St. Louis before meeting Chris Stevens, now her husband of almost nine years, an executive at Boone County National Bank and co-owner of PS: Gallery.

They opened the gallery at 812 E. Broadway in July 2006. Perlow manages the gallery, and artist Joel Sager is the associate curator, a part-time employee and an unpaid intern pitch-in. Stevens is involved in marketing and choosing the art displayed in the gallery.

“Sometimes forks in the road are the greatest opportunities,” Perlow said. “Instead of panicking, think, ‘I have a great opportunity. What do I like? What do I need?’ It would be easy to sell pharmaceuticals again. But I wouldn’t have the pride I have now. It may not fulfill my pocketbook, but it fulfills my soul.”

Perlow is passionate about extending art’s reach to everyone. She said she wants the gallery “to be a bigger presence, to open the door to art to more people. There is a reason that history defines cultures by its art.”

Jennifer Perlow and Carol Denninghoff check out Mitch Yung's ceramic sculptures showing currently at PS Gallery.

To that end, PS: Gallery features variety: local, regional and national artists working in wood, glass, ceramics, paint, sculpture, fiber, photography and jewelry. There’s always jewelry. “Jewelry has been one of my loves for a long time,” she said.

The gallery also always has some of Sager’s artwork. The Web site features a video tour of the gallery, and its space can be rented for business meetings, parties or dinners.

Perlow also was a galvanizing force behind Artrageous, a quarterly event hosted by venues in The District to give the arts community a higher profile and a common voice. She formerly was a partner at Poppy and serves on the boards of Columbia’s Career Awareness Related Experience program and the University of Missouri Museum of Art and Archaeology. She volunteers for the PTA at Lee Expressive Arts Elementary, where her daughter attends school, and coordinates the Fiber Art Tour and Exhibitions. She also brought the inaugural “Women With Wings” art project to town.

Art may be her second career but it’s clearly her first love.

“I’m not just saying it; I believe it,” Perlow said. “I believe in what I’m doing, and I hope to be able to keep doing it.”

PS: Q&A

CBT: How does event hosting fit into your operation?

P&S: “Hosting events was part of our original business plan. It was very important for us to not just have a retail space, but to be an interactive part of the community. We knew that one of the bigger struggles of owning an art gallery is just getting people in the door. There is still a misperception about who buys art and even who visits art galleries. Hosting events has been a great way to get people in the door and expose them to the art and the gallery. We think that hosting events helps break down those barriers and hopefully makes the gallery more inviting. In addition to the events that we host, like our quarterly receptions, we have hosted events for many non-profit organizations. In addition, the gallery is available for rental. We have hosted birthday parties, retirement parties and several wedding dinners.”

CBT: How has the gallery weathered the recession?

P&S: ” We saw a big downturn toward the end of last year. Things picked up in December and have continued to be on an upswing since. Our theory on this is that people are tired of ‘investing’ in things they can’t see or hold in their hand. Art is an investment in your everyday surroundings. It can bring you a ‘return on your investment’ everyday. Although we never sell art as a financial investment, art rarely goes down in value, unlike your stocks.

CBT: How do you decide what to display and what to charge?

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