Dayna Thacker Celebrates Gallery Stokes' Last Art Stroll

By Gray Chapman

After announcing the closing of Gallery Stokes just two weeks ago, Dayna Thacker will celebrate her gallery’s final Art Stroll this evening in Castleberry Hill. Thacker’s decision to close the gallery was one met with a great deal of heartache from the Atlanta arts community. “I’ve gotten a lot of heartfelt comments about it,” she says, “and I completely agree.” But Thacker’s resolutely optimistic outlook makes it difficult to feel too melancholy. “I’m certainly sad about it, but I’m also kind of relieved to move on and look for other possible projects.”

Thacker founded the gallery with a vision to create a shared exhibition space, fueled not by finances but simply by talented artists exhibiting great art work. As a result of Thacker’s concept, Gallery Stokes quickly became a diamond in the rough for the Atlanta arts scene. “I think more than anything, there’s a lament that there’s not many of these kinds of spaces to show in,” says Thacker. “But I also think that in most cases, where there’s a will, there’s a way. I mean, I didn’t make much money doing this at all.” She laughs. “I just did it because I wanted the experience and I enjoyed it.”

The experience, according to Thacker, had its share of roller coaster-esque ups and downs. On the one hand, Thacker’s own artistic life was hard-hit in her efforts to improve others’. “If I wanted to do artist’s residencies, or if I needed to really pour time into getting ready for a show, or plan a trip to New York, or something that was more about my career, it was really a challenge to find enough people who could actually install a show or take care of the gallery while I was gone,” she says, citing her husband Rich Gere as one of her biggest helpers. “Even if I could find someone to install the show, I still needed someone to design the invitations, and update the website, and communicate with the artists… so it was never a case where I was able to completely leave.”

But the way Thacker tells it, there were plenty of good times to be had, from enjoying a young artist’s excitement at his or her first show to interacting with the general public at events like the monthly Art Stroll. “I always really loved after a show had been installed, and it was finished, and the artist and I were able to step back, look around and see the finished product,” she says. “It was just such a great feeling, and they were so excited to have their name in vinyl letters on the wall!” Of course, sharing excitement with another artist over their success is a lesson quickly learned when operating a place like Gallery Stokes, and one of the more enlightening aspects of gallery work that Thacker mentions. “Artists typically want to put forth their own work, and hoping to have people interested in their work,” she admits. “So the experience of looking for and appreciating and promoting other people’s work, it was a very humbling experience and a broadening one.” Then, after a few seconds in thought, she simply adds, “I guess I learned how to put my ego as an artist in the back seat.”

The art stroll, which has attained a beloved following in the Atlanta arts scene, brings in a host of different people each month, and an interaction with the general public that Thacker says she’ll miss. “People would come in and being interested, maybe not terribly art educated or art-aware, but I’d get to explain to them why somebody was crazy enough to do some of the stuff that we were showing,” she says. Explaining some of the less conventional artwork to strangers would probably seem like a chore to many, but for Thacker, it was one of the best parts of the job. “It’s just amazing how interested and curious people are,” she muses. “I really enjoyed that, and it’s very encouraging – a general state-of-mankind kind of encouragement, for people to be interested in the work.”

As for any state-of-the-arts-scene encouragement, Thacker is hesitant to say whether things are looking better or worse for our city. “That’s a very tough question to answer,” she says. “I do know that the AJC has cut its arts coverage to almost nothing, with just a small blurb on a show every now and then.” She laments the decrease in local arts writing, especially since most of the general public rely on publications like the AJC and Creative Loafing to find out about the arts scene. On the other hand, Thacker says, occassional breaths of fresh air seem to revitalize the community from time to time. She cites Le Flash, the strength of Castleberry Hill, the burgeoning Westside Arts District, and the relocation of MOCA GA to Bennett Street as a few examples. “I do think that the art community itself has grown a lot and has become more active,” says Thacker. “I’m not completely sure why that is; I think it’s probably a bit of a snowball effect of a larger city cultivating its art scene. But I would like to see an even more active art community and I’d like to see the the city embrace it.”

Gallery Stokes’ final exhibition, Kung Fu, features the work of artist Todd Schroeder and his visual reactions to the death of actor David Carradine. Kung Fu will run through February 19. Gallery Stokes is located at 261 Walker Street in the Castleberry Hill Arts District.

[Art Relish is happy to have had the opportunity to work with Dayna and Gallery Stokes over the years and wish her the best for the future. – Jason.]

Gray Hardeman Chapman is a writer living in Atlanta

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