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As Gallery Up closes its doors, Rock Hill arts scene loses a gem

Gallery Up, a small Rock Hill frame shop and show room that became a beacon for contemporary artists in York County, will soon close its doors for good.

Owners Tamara LaValla and Zan Maddox plan to close the shop, located on the second floor of the Gettys Arts Center downtown, around mid February.

The business will live on in some form. But the husband-and-wife team hasn't settled on what that will be.

"We are eager to continue demanding art in new, exciting ways," they wrote in the gallery's online newsletter.

Gallery Up's final exhibition, Flora, featuring ceramic collections, opens with a free reception at 6 tonight.

The couple is closing the gallery to focus on their own art work, their Web design firm Social and family, LaValla said.

Gallery Up is doing well, LaValla said. Since it opened four years ago, she and Maddox have dedicated much of their time to the business.

"The crowds are getting bigger and the shows are getting better," LaValla said. But "we were failing to take care of what we needed personally.

"It's a weird way to end a business. We could do this for another eight years and (Gallery Up) would be doing better, but that's not what we needed."

With the closing, the city is losing a gem that draws attention and energy to Rock Hill's slowly developing downtown, local arts experts said.

"It's a tremendous loss," said Karen Derksen, Winthrop University's art gallery director. "They were an opportunity to view contemporary art on a daily basis. Instead of having to drive up to Charlotte to find something new and interesting, it was local."

No one will likely feel the loss more than area artists.

"There are so many artists that are going to be down by this closing," said Michael Gentry, a collage artist who exhibits and sells work through Gallery Up.

The York County Arts Council, which manages the Gettys Center, is talking with a group who may take over the studio where Gallery Up is located, Council Director Debra Heintz said.

Heintz declined to name the group because a deal hasn't been reached, but said she expects the members to be "equally talented" at drawing a fan base.

Never boring

Gallery Up started in a hallway.

LaValla and Maddox had rented a space on the second floor of the Gettys Center for their design firm. They got permission to hang local art outside the office.

"We really just hung work in the hall because it was ugly and institutional," LaValla said.

People dropped in to view the changing exhibitions in what came to be called the Gallery at Gettys.

Three years later, the couple thought it would be shut down after vandals shattered ceramics that were on display.

But the center boosted security and added cameras.

In 2007, LaValla and Maddox rented a studio down the hall and opened Gallery Up, a frame shop, exhibition space and retail store.

They envisioned a place where young, local artists could work and sell their art.

"We were creating a space where we wanted to go, and we wanted to create jobs we wanted to have had," LaValla said.

They wanted to exhibit work that intrigued and challenged viewers - "demanding art."

Rock Hill's art scene, which Winthrop University's Fine Arts Department Chair Tom Stanley described as still in its "infancy," has come to depend on LaValla and Maddox.

"They brought some of the best shows to Rock Hill and certainly to downtown," Stanley said.

Artists who move to town are referred to them.

Gallery Up has hosted dozens of exhibitions by painters, sculptors, photographers, performance artists, potters and others from around the county as well as the country.

The couple helped start an arts committee that created Muse Fest, a four-day celebration of artwork, independent film, live music, food trucks and craft beer.

They've given local artists avenues to actually make money from their work, said Gentry, the Arts Council's gallery manager.

"They're forward thinking, and they have standards," he said. "I was always excited about what they were doing. They didn't let it get boring."

People understand why LaValla and Maddox are closing the shop.

"I don't fault them at all," Stanley said. "It's a difficult thing, and you need a lot more people dedicated to it."

"They've put in their time and done what they could," Gentry said. But, "it's going to be hard for our art scene to stay exciting and innovative if something doesn't come to replace what Gallery Up was."

Want to go?

Gallery Up will hold a reception for its final show, titled Flora, from 6 to 8 tonight. Admission is free. The gallery is on the second floor of the Gettys Arts Center, 201 E. Main St., Rock Hill.

Flora is a ceramics show timed for Valentine's Day, according to Gallery Up. It features the work of Nebraska artist Jenni Brant and Jennifer Mecca, a potter and Winthrop University instructor.

Learn more

To learn more about Gallery Up, visit: www.galleryup.com

For more on Social, Tamara LaValla's and Zan Maddox's Web design firm, visit: www.socialdesignhouse.com

To view Rock Hill artist Mike Gentry's work, visit: www.mikegentryarts.com

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