Jeni Cottrell has a thing about blank walls. She can't abide them.
Especially if the walls belong to a nonprofit agency, and especially because she wants homegrown artists and galleries to prosper.
So Cottrell started a new venture about a year ago. No nonprofit paperwork. No steering committee. Just something on her own.
She contacts people she knows for donations to buy local art. Then she gives the artwork to a local nonprofit, where clients are too busy with life's travails to prowl galleries, and too short of cash to buy quality art for themselves.
On the flip side, finding large numbers of people willing to donate small amounts of cash for the charitable purchases also benefits local artists and the galleries that display their work.
"This is a way that everyone can support these artists," Cottrell said. "Going to Art Walk and just looking at the art isn't enough."
Cottrell makes jewelry and sits on the Bellingham Arts Commission. She also volunteers at Lydia Place, a Bellingham program that helps homeless people, including women with children.
Cottrell, on her own, previously donated two pieces of art to Lydia Place, a print and an animal totem. Then, about a year ago, she decided the meeting room at Lydia Place was due for some art.
She alerted friends, who donated from $10 to $100 to buy a mesmerizing cloudscape painted by Bellingham artist Sharon Kingston. Cottrell repainted the once-empty wall chartreuse, a color suggested by Kingston.
"It makes the painting pop," said Mindy Gravley, program director at Lydia Place. "It's the first thing you notice when you come into the room."
For her next project, Cottrell organized the purchase of two paintings for Bellingham's Sean Humphrey House, which cares for low-income people with HIV/AIDS.
Cottrell and Josh Grubb, executive director at Sean Humphrey, looked at paintings done collaboratively by Bellingham artists Tom Wood and Randy "FishBoy" Clark for a recent exhibit at Lucia Douglas Gallery, in Fairhaven.
Once they agreed on two paintings of flowers, "Small Garden" and "The Beach," Cottrell asked her friends to donate. People who visited the exhibit could donate there, too.
Gallery owner Linda Gardner said it was the first time she was involved in such a "group purchase."
"I think people found it interesting and original and for a really good cause," she said.
In the end, 22 people donated $1,000, enough to buy the two paintings, which now hang in Sean Humphrey's dining room.
"There's a sense of completeness to the room," Grubb said. "It was an empty space that needed something."
Now Cottrell is exploring the possibility of acquiring a painting for another nonprofit program in Bellingham.
On Friday, April 12, a reception was planned at Sean Humphrey House so the residents and staff could meet Wood and Clark and commemorate the donation of their paintings. Cottrell considers it important for artists to meet people at the nonprofits that are now home to their creations.
"She is really trying to connect the communities together," Gravley said. "She's making that her own personal mission."
To help Cottrell acquire and donate artwork to nonprofit programs, call her at 360-752-1904.
Reach Dean Kahn at 360-715-2291 or firstname.lastname@example.org.