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Gays Mills Arts Collective brings music to the Mercantile Center
Amazing growth seen
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“I’m amazed at what we’ve done, in the time we’ve done it,” said Driftless Arts Collective member Chela Mertz.

The group moved into a space in the Gays Mills Mercantile Center just before Apple Fest at the end of September. With no formal structure or rules about how they would operate when they moved in, they are now near signing a multi-year lease and have successfully staged one holiday event with another planned for this weekend.

‘Into the Mouth of the Jaguar Toad,’ being held this Saturday in the Mercantile Center from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., celebrates the approaching New Year with more than a passing nod to the date that has garnered so much attention of late—12/21/2012. The date marks the end of the current Mayan calendar and has been linked to a wide variety of beliefs in transformative and cataclysmic events portending the end of the world as we know it and the beginning of a new reality.

The event will focus on the work of guest artists and will feature two bands and refreshments.

“This is about getting people out to see the art,” said Phil Parhamovich, one of the musicians performing and an artist displaying both his own work and that made in collaboration with his four-year-old daughter Elva.

Parhamovich’s band Black Cat (formerly Dirt Brothers) will play with Adam Cox of Viroqua filling in for Parhamovich’s partner in music, Adam Cook. The band puts on a rocking show that makes you want to stomp your feet and dance.

Musicians Joe Hart and Bruce Carey will open the music with their 12-21-12 themed avant-garde punk band Nibiru.

The Annex space in the Mercantile Center was opened up for a holiday event. The event was successful, with a number of pieces being sold and interest from other artists being generated. Those artists, seeking to become involved, created the event this weekend.

“So much came in, it was obvious it was too much for this room,” said artist Bev Richey, referring to the Annex.

The new art spilled over into the proposed Bistro space, which will also be used to host this weekend’s event.

The recent activity may have brought a new lease to the building as a result of the Arts Collective’s energy. Richey, who has been manning the Driftless Arts Collective space fulltime as the group got off the ground, is looking at leasing the space housing the Annex after it moves out at the end of the month. She sees it as a valuable space, which could offer both a place to actively create art and offer services to area artists. Richey envisions a “makeshift” series that would bring in skills and services such as framing along with possibly offering supplies for sale.

“I think of it as a start-up space for artists,” Richey explained. “This space has the potential to do numerous things. The project is evolving. In six months, it will be different than what it is today.”

The Driftless Arts Collective is continuing to plan future events. A ‘LOVE’ event is in the works for February, featuring the works of artist Ken Anderson, who, according to Richey, contemplates the topic often in his work.

“We need to plan shows for the coming year and recruit members,” said Chela, looking at the Driftless Art Collective’s activities once the holidays are over. “Involving more artists from a wider circumference is an exciting proposition.

“The dust has been stirred and people seem to be please,” she continued, looking at the progress the group is making.

Gays Mills Business District Manager Julia Henley concurs with the optimism expressed by the artists.

“I’m thrilled to have the arts community embrace the Mercantile,” Henley said. “The arts help attract other businesses to a space.”

Henley says the group has already led to a new lease and she hopes to have the building fully occupied by the end of February.

Henley said that the ability to negotiate a wide variety of lease terms should be encouraging to new business.

“If someone wanted to try a space for three months, I would want to see us try it,” Henley said. “I would want to seem them set up to succeed when they test the waters.”

Possibility, it seems, is the realm of both the artist and the entrepreneur.

“It’s amazing that right here in Gays Mills, there’s an art revolution happening,” Chela Mertz said, contemplating the growing art scene in the new building. “What the hell, why not dream?”