The Combine Art Collective, located at 130 E Rose St #102, is a relatively new addition to Walla Walla. Despite facing many challenges since its opening in 2019, it has flourished.
Dianna Woolley is one of the six founders and owners of the Combine, along with Lauri Borer, Patty Gardner, Tricia Harding, Ann Hooper and Lynn Woolson. She explained that all six of the founders were artists who came to Walla Walla later in life. They all came to know each other through the art scene, specifically through their involvement in Art Walla. They had previously thought to establish a gallery, but knew it would be difficult.
“All of us, at some point or another, aspired to have our own gallery, but we also knew that running a gallery was an onerous task for one person, particularly if you wanted to continue doing your art,” Woolley said, “but we all had it in the back of our minds.”
Tricia Harding explained that one night in April after an Art Walla board meeting, a group sat around talking about how they wished there were more local art galleries. At the time, art was mostly displayed in tasting rooms and restaurants, and those weren’t ideal places for artists to make sales. Then the idea hit.
“We looked each other in the eye and went ‘well, we could whine about it forever, or we could just start a gallery,” Harding said.
Harding explained that four of the six founders were in that original meeting, and they discovered the other two over the next few days. Soon afterwards, Harding met with a local developer for a different project, and he mentioned that there was a space that would be perfect for an art gallery. Harding went to look at the space. She decided it was perfect.
“I just went home going, ‘wow, you put something out in the universe — I want to start a gallery — and the next thing you know you might have a space,’” Harding said.
Woolley agreed that it was very serendipitous.
“It really came into being, funneled into an idea that we’d all had in our singular lives; and when this opportunity came along, we just couldn’t resist it,” Woolley said.
The six founders invested in an LLC and opened the gallery in their own, taking turns to staff the building. The founders also recruited 12 other artists who were interested, and the gallery also hosts guest artists regularly.
Although March of 2020 brought further challenges, the Combine has been handling it well. Woolley explained that because art galleries only have a few people in them at a time, it was easy to adjust social distancing requirements. While it was difficult to shut down receptions and opening events, they have been using the downtime to focus on the Combine’s online presence.
“Amazingly, we have had a very good year,” Woolley said. “We’re actually shocked that we’ve had such a good year, and we feel it speaks to the art talent in Walla Walla and to continuing interest in it. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic people are drawn to see what other people make, what artists do.”
Ted Cox, a local artist and supporter of the arts, used to be on the board of Art Walla. A great supporter of the Combine, Cox was disappointed that the gallery was no longer able to host the events that they used to. However, he expressed that he was excited that the Combine was able to remain open.
“It’s wonderful. It exhibits some great artists that otherwise very seldom have an outlet,” Cox said.
Cox explained that while he and his wife once had the idea to start a similar gallery, it never worked out, and he’s glad that these artists were able to make it happen.
“It’s exactly what this town needed, an other people have tried. Like I said, my wife and I thought we could make it happen, but it didn’t,” Cox said. “I think it’s a wonderful endeavor.”
Based on the successes of this year, Woolley expressed that they were looking to make some improvements to the space. She also explained that not only does the Combine have guest artists for 2021 planned, they’re looking forward to 2022 as well.
Harding explained that one of the important things about the gallery for her was that they have a broad range of price points and mediums—whatever one is looking for, the gallery is likely to have it. Not only that, but it creates a space for local artists to show their work in a gallery setting.
“I think the most important thing about what we’re trying to accomplish is to help make Walla Walla a place where people can come—whether it’s community [members] or guests—to see and buy art,” Harding said. “Our hope is that eventually our success will encourage other people to open galleries… so that it becomes another activity in Walla Walla.”
The Combine Art Collective can be found online here.