Art advocate and curator Barbara Range exits Sacramento’s Brickhouse Gallery

The Brickhouse Gallery & Art Complex remains closed following curator Barbara Range’s departure. Photo by Keyshawn Davis

By Keyshawn Davis

Those who appreciate The Brickhouse Gallery & Art Complex describe it as a safe haven where artists have an opportunity to share their creative voice. A place where art exists with community.

In the heart of Oak Park, the 1,200-square-foot brick Brickhouse building built in 1924 has been a staple in the community for many painters, poets, photographers and artists since 2003. The gallery has been a showcase for many existing and emerging artists, community leaders, as well as the neighborhood’s First Friday events.

But the stalwart gallery is embarking on an era of the unknown. For the last 14 years, Barbara Range has been Brickhouse’s director and curator, and as of early February, she made her exit from the gallery — and from Sacramento. 

Range said that her departure from the gallery is bittersweet, but she’s looking forward to the next chapter. For now, Brickhouse is closed.

“I feel that every door that closes there’s always an amazing door that opens,” Range said. “I’m really looking forward to new travel for myself, being able to meet people, explore, discover, and then I’m also excited about the rehealing of my body,” she said. “It’s a little tired, it needs rest, it needs some TLC, it needs some nurturing. So I’m really going to be taking time to make sure that I’m really taking good care of myself.”

The complex has hosted numerous exhibits for the last 14 years, covering multiple mediums of art such as ceramics and textile, paintings and watercolors, installations and quilt exhibits. Muralists, poets, authors, painters, musicians and others have used the space to display their creativity and to gather.

Range said that she’s exiting Brickhouse because she’s ready for a change, and because it’s time for new leadership at the gallery. 

“You don’t want it to be the same, but you definitely want it to still be able to have the presence in the community,” she said. “I would hope that it would still have the connection with [the] community. I would hope that it would still be inviting and a safe space for artists to come. And I would hope that it would still be a space where Black and brown artists can still come and bring their art and bring their artistic voices here, as well to be able to share in the community as it is right now.”

Shawntay Gorman, a multidisciplinary artist who paints, creates photography, short films and curates and organizes events, has had her work displayed at Brickhouse. She said she tried for years to be a part of an event at the gallery and one day Range reached out to her to come to Open Studios and paint live. That experience led Gorman to become a resident artist at the Brickhouse and later open her art studio at the complex. 

Gorman said Range taught her some of the simplest yet important things, like painting the sides of her paintings. “She’s taught me how to properly wrap my art for traveling,” Gorman said. “She even taught me how to curate art shows and finding your flow within being a curator. Barbara is literally my art mom. She’s everything to me.” 

End of an era for Oak Park gallery

 Barbara Range (left) and Shawntay Gorman hold completed artwork. Gorman said that Range is her “art mom” and she means “everything” to her. (Photo Courtesy of Shawntay Gorman)

Gorman thinks that Range having left Sacramento is a huge blow to the city because of the value she brought to the local art scene and culture. She said Range has helped a lot of artists and Brickhouse itself was a safe space.

“So that is going to be something that’s going to be kind of hard to navigate and watch to see how our art culture goes now,” Gorman said. “Because I know not just for myself as a Black and Filipino artist, but my other Black and brown friends who have done shows there or done events there or even just go hang out with Barbara and talk to her. We no longer have that space. Sacramento is dominated and monopolized. And I just feel like that sense of home and community to Sacramento that I don’t think we’re going to be able to find for a while.”

Although art is the main component of the Brickhouse complex, Range said she’s had a wonderful time being able to build community through different festivals, such as Día de los Muertos and the Sacramento Black Book Fair.

Range said Brickhouse has also regularly showcased poetry for the last 10 years up until her departure. The space has even been used for a funeral, when Gorman’s mother passed away last year. She said Range offered the space and set up everything herself.

“For me, that was really the highest mark,” Range said. “I think that’s real deep for me. That you could bring your loved ones here to say goodbye and gather.”

‘Last haven’ for affordable artists studio

Kachiside Madu, is a professional photographer who has also had his art displayed at the gallery. Through his work, often using black-and-white portraits, he said he aims to bring more political consciousness to the masses and to uplift communities that have historically been wrongfully portrayed by mass media. 

Madu said he first met Range when he had to drop something off at the Brickhouse Gallery. He then sold Range a couple of images and it brought her to tears, he recalled. What was supposed to be a 5-minute drop-off turned into a conversation lasting more than two hours. She’s been his mentor and photography coach ever since, he said.

“She’s so knowledgeable,” Madu said. “This isn’t her first rodeo doing an exhibit or curating an exhibit, to be able to kind of get her wisdom and to know that it’s coming from a trusted space and a trusted mentor, someone I can call a friend [and] call Auntie. I know that the advice she was giving me was pure and it was rich and it was genuine. So the insight that she was able to provide me, it’s priceless.” 

There aren’t a lot of gallery spaces for people of color in Sacramento, according to Range. “The spaces here in Sacramento in terms of art … we’re lacking art galleries and spaces where artists can be able to come and gather and create,” she said. “They need studios. This was really some of the last haven in terms of affordable studios for artists.”

Range said Brickhouse has shut down as a result of her departure and she doesn’t know if it’s going to reopen or not. But she’s hopeful that her own new next chapter will be an exciting one.

“I don’t think that anything should stay the same,” she said. “I get bored with that. And one of the reasons why I’m going, too, [is] because I’ve done all it is that I can do here. I don’t think that there’s anything else for me to do here in Sacramento. So it’s time for the next level. It’s time for the new discovery of what Barbara wants to do.”

This story is part of the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative. Solving Sacramento is supported by funding from the James Irvine Foundation and James B. McClatchy Foundation. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19.

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