Opening New Doors

The former Smith Family Books by campus now houses an artist collective, complete with studios, and the arts nonprofit New Zone Gallery

Dean Smith’s most important education came courtesy of his family’s business, Smith Family Bookstore. “It was a blessing,” he says, to work in the store started by his father in the 1970s. He had access to books on every subject. It was there he was first attracted to Eastern religion, to which he attributes his attitude of “openness.”

Smith ties that attitude to the opening of his and wife Michele Smith’s new project, dubbed Galleria at the Smith, which is using the former campus-area Smith Family Bookstore building to house both an artist collective, complete with 36 tiny studio spaces and an exhibition space, and a branch of Eugene’s longtime nonprofit New Zone Gallery.

Smith inherited the building on East 13th Avenue, just down the block from the University of Oregon, nine years ago. Last year, the book business, run by his sister Evon Smith, closed its campus branch and consolidated with the Smith Family Bookstore downtown after an “unexpected large rent increase” on the campus building, Evon Smith said in an email. She added that the two siblings have not spoken for years.

Dean Smith says he decided on a new business model for what became 10,000 feet of empty space: an art center. “I’ve always been a draw-er,” Smith says, though up until 2008, the only time he studied art was in junior high school. 

In 2008, when he decided to learn how to paint, he found the instruction he needed on design and color in the bookstore’s aisle on art. For art supplies he answered an ad on Craigslist and bought an easel, paints, and even a couple of canvases for $25. 

Smith says he learns quickly once he puts his mind to something. Apparently so, because a year after picking up a brush he had a painting accepted to the juried Eugene Mayor’s Art Show.

The idea for Galleria at the Smith, the new name for what he originally proposed as DM3 Art Studios and Gallery, grew out of Smith’s experience meeting other artists who also worked out of their homes and needed studio space. The two upstairs floors of the building at 768 E. 13th Avenue have been remodeled, transformed from bookstore to art studios and gallery. Of the 36 studios, 24 had already been rented by press time. As part of the complex, a separate art gallery is being run by New Zone Gallery. 

The New Zone Gallery Annex at the art center will include a gift shop, same as in New Zone’s gallery downtown. New Zone president Dianne Story Cunningham says they have been doing well in that location during these last seven months of COVID-19. 

They “sell an amazing amount” at the gift shop. That should work for the university location, too, where people who can’t afford large purchases can pay $3 for a magnet or $50 for a small painting. Artists will also be able to sell their work when they open their studios to the public during Marketplace Weekends on Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 20. 

Cunningham was approached by Dean Smith after, Smith says, he had contacted faculty and staff at the UO regarding the new art space, but received no response. New Zone, on the other hand, was enthusiastic about the additional gallery opportunity from the start. Gallery members were on board within days. 

The art studios will be managed by Smith, and studio artists will have their own gallery space. New Zone’s director Steve LaRiccia will oversee the new annex.

Cunningham says the gallery “is in it for the long haul with the Smiths.” The new art center makes her feel like there’s still hope. Even amid a global pandemic, “Good things can still happen.”

A grand opening for Galleria at the Smith will be noon to 6 pm Saturday, Nov. 7, at 768 E. 13th Avenue. Regular hours for the Galleria as well as the New Zone Annex at the same location will be noon to 6 pm seven days a week.