NEW PORT RICHEY — A guitar is played gently in the background by a musician, shoes click and clack across the hardwood floor as patrons mix and mingle, voices murmur and cross over one another with sounds of both comfortable curiosity and happy appreciation.
It’s opening night of the All Member’s Exhibit and People’s Choice Awards Competition at the Downtown New Port Richey Art Gallery.
The director of the gallery, Bonnie Bratby-Carey, looks over all the activity in the gallery with some 125 artworks on display.
Patrons can relax at the outdoor patio tables to listen to the guitarist as well as sounds of the city passing into the evening
The entry room has been partially converted into a store with a few pieces of art displayed here and there in glass cases and mounted on walls near the front desk.
A small, secondary room houses a few large paintings, photographs and a small beverage and buffet table where guests have gathered for wine and refreshments.
A hallway displays poetry on one side and works produced with paints and cameras on the other.
The large open space in the back of the gallery is the temporary home of most of the art, such as a tall sculpture of a metal woman, a photograph of hands young and old, tightly woven together and portrait-paintings of people from cultures near and far.
“It’s not only art,” Bratby-Carey said. “We like to think of ourselves as a cultural hub offering both visual and literary arts. So whether it’s an artist, poet or an author, they’re all so passionate about what they do, they’re so interesting, talented and committed. I enjoy being in this kind of environment.”
Gallery leaders regard it as a sanctuary of sorts, a beacon of hope.
The annual exhibit and competition has been going on for about seven years as an opportunity to gain recognition and spread awareness of members’ works.
“All artists want to be validated,” Vicki Swepson of Dade City, the wife of member artist Arnold Swepson, said. “This gives them a chance to showcase their work at a reasonable cost.”
Oils painter Janna Withers of Spring Hill said: “Word has spread and art here now comes from all over. There are over 100 pieces here tonight, encompassing all art areas and this is the biggest member show I’ve seen so far. They did an incredible job and this is a beautiful show.”
The gallery doesn’t publish the artists’ names next to their works during the competition. Instead they invite the public to cast ballots on their favorite artwork strictly on the merit of the works they see rather than the artist’s identities.
The voting will continue on at the gallery until July 5. Then the gallery will reward one artist with Best of Show based on votes, as well as first, second and third place prizes for each of the three categories.
The winners will be announced at an open house reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, July 11.
“The arts are the foundation for our civilization,” Bratby-Carey said. “They’ve always been an integral part of who we are and what we want to be.”
The Downtown New Port Richey Art Gallery is at 6231 Grand Blvd. For hours and other information go online to nprgallery.com.