Arts & Culture

Tacoma’s first gallery devoted to children’s art opens in a former marijuana shop

Nathaniel Hunt’s “Flight.”
Nathaniel Hunt’s “Flight.” Courtesy

The logo’s still green, but that’s about the only thing in common between the new tenant at 2701 N. 21st St., Tacoma, and what was there before. Replacing a retail pot shop in the quiet Three Bridges area is Young at Art, the only gallery in Tacoma devoted entirely to showing and selling children’s art. Even the logo — a lime-green heart — was designed by a child. And at the opening event Nov. 12, patrons get the chance to support young artists in a way that goes beyond sticking a school project on the fridge.

“Not all (children) can be straight-A students,” explains owner Kim Tosch. “This is another way to express themselves and get validation.”

For Tosch, who has spent the last six months renovating the space, Young at Art began as a highly personal experience. Several years ago, impressed by her oldest daughter Monet’s talent for art, she decided to print out some of her designs for greeting cards. The result was so popular with family and friends that it became a regular tradition, taken up by her youngest daughter Nora as well. Then, last year, Tosch took the project beyond her immediate circle and began selling the cards to shops in Portland, where the family had been living. The cards sold out.

“It was huge for (Nora), huge,” says Tosch. “She has to work very hard at school (to get good grades), but didn’t have anything of hers that could shine. When people wanted to buy her art, her self-esteem just grew.”

Inspired, Tosch looked around for local galleries that might show and sell children’s artwork. She found none. So she decided to start her own.

In the atypical world of galleries as businesses, Young at Art is even more atypical. Tosch isn’t expecting to make much money, but then she’s getting a free lease from the building’s owner, Jay Berneburg, Tosch’s ex-husband and a Tacoma lawyer. She’s also chosen to ask only half of the usual 50 percent commission on sales, due to her artists’ ages — and has absolutely no idea how much those sales will even total.

No one knows what children’s art is worth.

Kim Tosch, Young at Art owner

“No one knows what children’s art is worth,” says Tosch, who has five children herself. “I’m not doing this for the money.”

Instead, the children themselves will put an initial price on the work, which will then be sold by silent auction at regular gallery events like next week’s opening.

To recoup some of her costs — she’ll need to pay rent at some point, she says – Tosch will sell T-shirts and coasters, hand-printed herself, that use the artists’ designs.

And those designs are quite adorable. From Cadence Chavez, 8, come cheeky bright acrylics of a red bird with a cross for an eye, or a yellow blowfish with a French beret. From Vivian McMeekin, 12, there are watercolor ducks lovingly detailed in front of dramatic landscapes — an orange sunset, a stormy gray sky. Madeleine McKeown, paints a Tim Burton-esque tree with a vivid pink-yellow background and buttons on the tips of its tendrilly branches; Nathaniel Hunt, 12, creates tiny “doodles” with pen and color like abstract graphic-novel characters; and from Tosch’s daughter Nora Tosch-Berneburg, 11, come butterflies, hearts and flowers with highly textured and blended pastel colors — as well as the heart on the gallery’s logo.

The youngest of the 10 artists currently in the gallery is 1-year-old Kaia Brimer from Colorado — the only non-Tacoma artist, and one whose bright finger paintings are also on view in an online children’s gallery for The National Gallery in London.

Even the space, wide-open and airy with two walls of windows, has artistic touches thanks to Tosch, who not only removed walls and repainted over the pot shop’s lime-green décor, but also added little friezes of white geometric shapes along transitions on the ochre floor. The paintings are displayed on both the walls and some donated easels, and are framed by parents.

It’s such a new idea, and you have to have parent involvement.

Kim Tosch

“I also wanted to show parents the business of how to sell art, with framing and matting,” says Tosch.

She still has no idea about whether the concept of a children’s gallery will take root in Tacoma. Getting the word out to parents was hard enough, and for a long time she didn’t have enough submissions. Now she’s talking with folks at the Children’s Museum about possible partnerships, and is planning future workshops for kids with local guest artists. The gallery will be open for regular events, as well as by appointment.

“I’m hoping parents are going to see it’s a serious thing,” Tosch says. “If nothing else, I’ll have a great party for these kids at the opening!”

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568

rosemary.ponnekanti@thenewstribune.com

@rose_ponnekanti

IF YOU GO

What: Young at Art opening exhibition.

When: 6-8 p.m. Nov. 12.

Where: Young at Art gallery, 2701 N. 21st St., Tacoma.

Cost: Free; silent auction for artwork; coasters $10 or $25 for three, T-shirts $25 for adult sizes and $20 for kid sizes.

To submit: Artists must be under 18.

Information: 253-820-3841, youngatartgallery.com.

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