Gallery 14 takes on new leadership, opens latest exhibit Friday

VERO BEACH – Right out of the gate, the newly named president of Gallery 14, Lila Blakeslee, is taking the reins of the organization and charging ahead.

Like the horses she paints by commission, she shows a boundless spirit for pushing the gallery and its district into the fore.

The force behind the design district strolls, Blakeslee’s latest concept is to stage shows for causes, the first being Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, with a month-long exhibit opening Dec. 3.

Her enthusiasm is more important than ever for the fledgling group, reorganizing after losing five of its 12 original owner-artists in recent months.

Blakeslee blames the economic downturn for posing hardships for artists in general, and adds that in some cases personal reasons came into play.

But for others, it was a summer of solid sales, and enabled the remaining artists to stash away enough cash to cover rent until season.

Working from a studio in her home, she makes time to give riding lessons a few mornings a week, mostly to adult clients.

But Gallery 14 is the business that sustains her artistic sensibilities.

The gallery has restructured itself to allow for visiting artists to hang their works for a fee. Normally the owner-artists work part-time manning the gallery, and pay a share of the rent.

While the gallery is actively looking for more partners, so far, the visiting artists concept has taken off.

“We’re booked through the season,” Blakeslee says.

From the start of the gallery in 2007, Blakeslee has been behind much of the gallery’s marketing and events, efforts that have paid off for the arts district as a whole.

The seasonal strolls she launched beginning in 2009 have turned into widely attended evenings.

While they were initially aimed at drawing attention to the area south of State Road 60, the strolls have come to include up to 30 businesses north to Pocahontas Park.

Beginning this season, the strolls are scheduled for the first Friday of every month.

Billed as gallery tours, the participating businesses typically feature an artist or artisan, and often serve wine, coffee or hors’ d’oeuvres.

“We want people to discover the gallery like a person discovers a new bottle of wine,” she says.

The fundraising exhibit benefiting Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, called “Our Beautiful Ocean,” will donate a portion of any sales of the ocean-themed paintings toward costs of graduate research assistants at the center.

The opening reception for the “Our Beautiful Ocean” exhibit is Dec. 3, and the works will hang until Jan. 7.

Contributors include not only the Gallery 14 artists, but others around the country, including some made available online through http://www.gallery14verobeach.com.

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