An artist community is unique and special no matter where it is situated and this is true for Arata Art Gallery of Benicia, California. Benicia is about 36 miles north of San Francisco. Gallery owner, Geraldine Arata and her husband John, left San Francisco’s North Beach and relocated their gallery in Benicia. “Because, as Geri said (her friends and colleagues call her ‘Geri’ for short), we wanted more community, especially to be among fellow artists.”
Arata Gallery had been in North Beach for quite some time featuring classical themes reminiscent of Venice and the Renaissance and of course, North Beach. Visitors to the spot, like Curtis from Hayward, loved the carnival and Mardi Gras themes. As he commented on Yelp. “Its a nice little North Beach find.”
Geri considered herself fortunate, especially as ‘the City’ (as many natives refer to San Francisco) changed considerably after the Dot Com boom of the 1990s. “People would mention how much the City had changed with a comment of ‘it ain’t what it used to be!’ And, I agree it has changed. Prices went up -(especially rents for storefronts and commercial spaces) But warts and all, I still love San Francico,” she said.
Geri was also fortunate to attend the San Francisco Art Institute which is only a few blocks from the heart of North Beach on Chestnut Street. Besides being a ‘storied place’ North Beach had many happy memories. “I used to get a laugh out of how the tourists who would come into the City dressed for warm weather would rush to find a spot to buy a jacket in North Beach, because San Francisco’s coldest months are in summer when the fog rolls in.”
Many happy memories and the sense of home…This is why the decision to leave North Beach wasn’t easy. But rising costs and the changing demographic had Geri and John seriously pondering what to do. “We had friends in Benicia, said Geri and so Benicia was the place for us. And, since 2016 when we relocated the gallery here, Benicia has always had something going on in the community. Events and activities like a ‘wine walk’ a ghost tour, lots of things going on, very similar to the ‘First Friday Reception’ showings we had in North Beach,” she added.
Geri pointed out that having a business in a community really helps to build community. “Over the years, John and I have had a business in three locations and of all of them (I have to say, as much as I love San Francisco) Benicia has been the best. The town and its City Council really go out of their way to help small businesses thrive and that’s important,” said Geri.
“I agree, said Scott Lyall, of Scott Lyall clothiers in nearby Napa Valley. Lyall had one of his first stores in Benicia back in the 1980s. “Benicia was a place for artists even back then, now almost 40 years ago. It doesn’t seem that long ago, but time flies,” he added. He empathized with Geri and the difficult decisions a business owner has to make. Yet being in Benicia as a business and as an art gallery owner he sees that Geri had made a good and wise move.
“Artists like Bob Arneson where in Benicia back then and he was eccentric and had made some controversial art pieces,” said Lyall. From Lyall’s perspective Arneson and other artists really put Benicia on the map as far as art and commerce are concerned. From that time on Benicia has only continued to grow as an artists community and destination point.
“The City of Benicia was instrumental in promoting the ‘Art Walk’ we have in summer, said Deputy City Manager, Mario Giuliani. In fact, we have done a lot of things to help the community, especially the artist community by providing ‘boost grants’ as Giuliani referred to the incentives provided by the City of Benicia. That is one of the advantages of being a small town,” he added. This was especially crucial during the first few months of the onset of COVID-19.
Pleased that the City of Benicia was a great help to the Arata Gallery as well as many artists in the community, “I am sad to see Arata Gallery close, said Giuliani. I wish them well. Hope they come back.”
Leaving the gallery that Geri and husband John have built in Benicia will not be easy. As Geri noted. “We thought this would be our last move. Benicia is a wonderful little town with a large artist community. We’ve enjoyed being part of it. However, after the COVID-19 pandemic hit we decided we wanted to be with our son and his young family in Colorado. He has a seven-year-old and a four year-old. And, she exclaimed, another one due in February. We want to be there and not miss those important moments.”
Mentioning how much work is involved in running an art gallery and owning a business, “we have been very committed to this venture. It takes a lot of time and hard work to do,” said Geri.
Open Wednesday through Sunday, Arata Art Gallery will close its doors on Sunday, November 21st, with 30 percent off of paintings by Geraldine Arata. Located at 637 First Street in downtown Benicia, Arata Art Gallery is open 11 AM to 5 PM. “I will still be creating paintings, said Geri. But it will be in Colorado! I have Gallery representation with Art Obsessions in Reno, and Creason’s Fine Art Gallery in the French Quarter of New Orleans.” For more information about Arata Art Gallery’s final weekend in Benicia call 510-432-5167 for more details.