By Clay Riness 

Viroqua is rich in art … and artists of all kinds. It also has its share of ingenuity. How does an artist increase awareness of local art, sell more of his or her work, and introduce the bountiful work of others? The answer: Come together. 

VIVA Gallery (Viroqua Independent Visual Artists) is an artist cooperative, a group of artists who showcase their various works of art in one place. The cooperative’s gallery is located in the historic Main Street Station, formerly the Peterson Motors building in downtown Viroqua.

Raelene Roberts, a metalsmith and jewelry-maker, is one of five founding members who, after having attended a large meeting to discuss the possibility of forming a cooperative, pushed through to create one and open a store. “We started out and people came,” she says. “We began to gather artists. We’d tell people we knew, ‘Hey, we’ve started an artist cooperative; come and see.’ We’ve been here 12 years now. After the first year we’ve never had less than a dozen members, but we’ve been as high as 18 or 20. Right now we’re at 16, which is about perfect for this space.”

Among the many varied types of art inside VIVA Gallery are paintings, drawings, prints, textiles, pottery, photography, jewelry, wood works and more. Each working member pays a monthly fee and staffs the gallery for a number of days per month. Nonworking members pay a slightly higher fee and a higher percentage of commission for sales. All members must be residents of the Driftless Region, and new artwork must be rotated four times per year to keep inventory fresh.

“We do jury each artist, so we have to be very careful not to discourage people but at the same time let them know that they’re not quite ready to be here yet,” Roberts explains. “It’s not fair to them when they have to pay monthly and put in all this time, especially if their work won’t sell.” Artists can apply to be juried, or the cooperative may reach out to artists they are interested in. In addition, guest artists may be asked to join if the members love their work.

In fact, each month VIVA Gallery features a guest artist with a reception on the first Thursday of the month. This November and December will feature an artisan holiday showcase.

Roberts sees the future as promising. “We’re hoping to keep going strong and stay right here. We’re perfectly happy right where we are.”

VIVA Gallery is located at 217 South Main Street in Viroqua. For more information, you can call (608) 637-6918 or email info@vivagallery.net. You can also find the gallery online at vivaviroqua.blogspot.com or facebook.com/VivaGallery.