Bero Closes

Desolate Downtown Atmosphere Contributes To Photo Gallery's Demise.

By Margaret Regan

USUALLY AT THIS time of year, Bero Gallery stages its Poetry Gallery.
But last weekend, instead of showing off inventive amalgams of photography and the spoken word, gallery owner Rob Sidur put out his worldly goods and had a moving sale. After four years, the plucky downtown arts venue is shutting its doors.

"It's become too much of an expense," Sidur said last week. "It's too much to handle. Everything I made went straight back into here...The original intent was to keep it open for five years, but I decided it's too much to handle for another year."

Review Since it opened in late spring of 1994 in a storefront on Sixth Avenue just north of Broadway, the tiny gallery had been the setting for more than 50 shows of unconventional photography. This spring, for instance, Cynthia Laureen Vogt exhibited meticulous hand-stitched books filled with eerie black-and- white photographs, and Alis Cummings showed cropped blow-ups of old family snapshots. Sean Justice glued bits and pieces of photos of the Catalina Mountains into collages a few seasons back. The Group for Photographic Intentions, a loosely knit Tucson collective, were regulars.

"The goal was to provide space for new and unknown younger artists," Sidur said, "and to show non-traditional photography...I feel like I did succeed...There were buyers, but not enough...We did sell sometimes, and we got people's work out there."

Bero occasionally broke its own photography rule, venturing into other media. Last summer, painters and sculptors showed in Bero's Salon de Célébration, a Salon des Refusés for artists rejected by the Arizona Biennial at the Tucson Museum of Art.

Over the years, the gallery showed well over 100 artists, Sidur said, and about 75 percent of them were from Tucson. Most were up-and-coming younger artists, but Bero also managed to snag the likes of Todd Walker, a powerhouse elder of photography who once taught at the UA, and Ann Simmons-Myers, the respected head of the photography department at Pima College.

"They really did a nice job," said Terry Etherton, owner of the 16-year-old Etherton Gallery up the street. "Their shows were well-presented; they had some very interesting stuff...Artists should be grateful. They really stuck their necks out."

Kathleen Velo, a GPI member who showed several times at the gallery, said artists were keenly aware of how unusual Bero was.

"They gave a lot of artists an opportunity to show work in a really good venue," she said. "It's not easy to find places like that. They're going to be missed."

Sidur and his former partner Beth Wachtel opened the gallery--its title was a melding of their first names--in late spring of 1994. Fresh from undergraduate art studies at the University of Connecticut, the two photographers selected Tucson for their new gallery after a cross-country tour of cities. The Old Pueblo's thriving art scene is what attracted them. Now 28, Sidur said he "still thinks there's a lot of support for the arts (in Tucson), moral and spiritual. There's just not the financial support you'd get in L.A. or someplace else."

Wachtel left the gallery a year ago (she now works at Etherton and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum). Sidur was left to put together the last season on his own.

"It was a little bit harder, with one person instead of two," he acknowledged, especially since he had to keep his day job as a commercial silk screener to support himself. Still, he noted, the present sorry condition of downtown made a difficult situation worse. "The trouble is getting people to keep coming down here. There are so many vacancies and they give a desolate air."

Sidur also criticized the city's new vigilance in ticketing cars that have overstayed their time at parking meters, and landlords who continue to raise the rents of struggling businesses. But Etherton said he doesn't think the demise of Bero is "indicative of the downtown arts scene." Rather, he said, it illustrates what happens when gallery owners don't acknowledge commercial realities. He admires Sidur and Wachtel enormously for staying on the high-minded path of showing only experimental art, he said, but "in a way their idealism was part of the problem."

Sidur agreed that business acumen might have helped. He would advise any other new gallery operator to "make sure you go into it with some capital. Learn something about business beforehand."

Now that he's made the difficult decision to shut down--and despite the credit card debt that's piled up--Sidur said, "There's a weight off my shoulders." He might even open another gallery someday. For now though, "I'm going to set up a darkroom and do my own work."

Artists who need to retrieve work from the gallery can call Bero at 792-0313 for the next several weeks. TW

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