GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An art gallery that has been open in Grand Rapids for more than three decades is changing ownership.
LaFontsee Galleries at 833 Lake Dr. SE near Eastern Avenue is changing hands from Linda LaFontsee and her husband to Kate Meyer and her husband.
“…Not only do I think this is an amazing, incredible community resource, but the gallery has won numerous awards,” Meyer told News 8. “In fact, American Art Awards voted us as one of the top 20 galleries in the U.S.”
The art gallery will host an open house on May 24 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. during which guests can meet the new owners and get behind-the-scenes tours.
The LaFontsees first started the business, then called ‘Underground Studio,’ in 1987 in a basement, framing artwork for customers. They eventually bought a 600-square-foot space, where they stayed around five years.
During their time there, they met several artists through framing projects.
“We felt the real strong need to represent them, to get their work out in the community, to get people to value it and understand it and learn about it,” LaFontsee said.
The couple moved into an exhibition space on Monroe Avenue, a “wonderful show space” in a warehouse on the river, she said. They stayed there for around 15 years before moving into their current building, which opened in 2012.
“Every location we’ve been in, it’s been a place that the community can come and enjoy beautiful paintings, meet the artists, get their framing done, do printing,” LaFontsee said. “It’s been a hub for the creative art world for at least 35 years.”
The 24,000-square-foot gallery represents around 70 artists, mostly local. The art on the walls is constantly changing — so are the walls, which are movable. Many of the gallery’s employees have worked there for years.
During her years at the gallery, LaFontsee found inspiration for her own pieces from the artists the gallery works with.
“It gave me a lot of inspiration, first of all to do my own work, but also a confidence that as long as you’re working with integrity and you’re working from heart, the art is going to be successful,” she said.
But she’s ready to retire so she can have time to make more art and travel. She and her husband started talking about transitioning ownership of the gallery around 10 years ago. The most important thing for them was finding someone who would make sure the gallery continued on.
They met Kate Meyer and her husband a few years ago and started talking about passing the gallery on to them. Meyer is an artist herself and has a background in nonprofit management and leadership.
“LaFontsee Galleries has been just a cultural treasure here in Grand Rapids for decades and so it’s a place I’ve always admired,” Meyer said. “Thought as an artist myself, ‘Wow, that’d be great to be represented by them.'”
LaFontsee will work with Meyer and her husband for six months as they transition into their new roles as owners. Meyer said she’s working to learn everything she can from LaFontsee.
“That’s 36 years of knowledge and there’s so much that they know about the business and about the community,” Meyer said.
Meyer is excited to bring her experience to the gallery and would like to create more partnerships with other organizations, something hasn’t been as possible over the past few years during COVID-19. She’d also like to expand the sculpture garden.
“One of my personal projects that I had in the back of my mind is just to enhance and expand our sculpture garden and have more three-dimensional artists,” she said. “We’ve got a beautiful lawn. … People use this place for healing and to have a space to be surrounded by beauty and if we can bring the outdoors into that as well, that would be fabulous.”
As Meyer and LaFotnsee have worked closely together to keep the gallery going, Meyer said she’s learned the gallery is a “treasure” in the community.
“We’ve had lots of conversations over several months,” Meyer said. “(It) is more than just a gallery. It’s a place where people come and just use it as a museum or a healing place, or a space to just get away.”