Downtown Concord: On second thought, McGowan Fine Art will move, not close

  • CourtesyMcGowan owner Sarah Chaffee announced the closing of the gallery with former owner and founder Mary McGowan in May. But Chaffee has reconsidered after an outpouring of support.

  • McGowan Fine Art plans to move into this new space at 2 Phenix Ave. in September or October. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Sunday, July 09, 2017

Two months ago, Sarah Chaffee was somberly considering a career change as she planned to shutter the downtown art gallery she’d directed for two decades.

Little did she know that perfect strangers would react so powerfully to that decision that they’d step in to help keep the business going.

“People kept coming forward – people I had just met, you know?” she said, recalling that one man told her: “Well, I’m a businessman. What can I do to help you? Can we sit down and talk about what went wrong? Let’s just assess this.”

Chaffee added: “I guess I was not prepared for such a strong reaction to my closing.”

So now, after that rush of support, McGowan Fine Art isn’t closing after all. It’s moving to a new space at 2 Phenix Ave., beneath The Works Bakery Cafe, probably in September or October.

Chaffee noted that the address – referencing the mythological regenerative bird – is apropos for the gallery’s rebirth.

All the reasons that she had originally planned to close still exist – art galleries have generally struggled amid a tough economy and the rise of internet sales – so it’s “still a very scary proposition” to go ahead, she said.

But she’s been invigorated by the events of the past few months and plans to re-evaluate her business. Maybe less time will be spent on shows, she said, and more time spent talking to customers and getting them to artists, and vice versa. She’s also planning pop-up shops in other places to promote the gallery and to bring in guest curators.

“I call it reinventing,” she said. “I’m still petrified at my choice – either way I was petrified – but I’ve gotta give it one last whack. I think my public understands that I need them to support me if they want me to be around. Hopefully I don’t have to get to this point again.”

She added: “I guess I didn’t think I could ask for help before.” But, apparently, helpers were ready to step in and find a new home without Chaffee even asking.

The new space will be smaller than the current 10 Hills Ave. location, and passers-by won’t be able to see in, but it’s in the heart of downtown, she said.

“It’ll be a very New York City feel,” Chaffee said. “It’s going to be a little industrial feeling, which I’m good with. It’s all part of the new brand.”

In the meantime, the gallery will stay open until the move. Chaffee said she’s getting ready to put up a new summer show in the next two weeks.

People throughout the community, especially the artists who need a place to show their work and build an audience, were dismayed when the gallery first announced its plans to close. Chaffee said one customer told her, now “I can put away my mourning clothing.”

Yet another wrote her a poignant note at the time.

“It’s incredible in the literal sense,” the woman wrote upon hearing that the gallery would close. “More to the point, I refuse to believe it. I doubt this is a permitted activity.”

As it turns out, the message bordered on prescient. Concord wouldn’t let it happen.

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at