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It was all hands-on deck at the Gallery One Visual Arts Center during the final First Friday Art Walk of 2021. The gallery and gift shop filled with an estimated 200 people anxious to get out and celebrate the upcoming holiday season.

Pianists entertained from the grand piano on the mezzanine and the music filled the air and gallery down below. The program continued with the children’s choir as the people in both sections down below videoed and photographed the presentation, cell phones taking it all in.

It was a night to remember at the historic downtown gallery, almost normal. It was in fact the new normal and the near capacity crowd wore protective health care masks that have become essential over the past couple of years.

2021 was anything but normal, but Gallery One Visual Arts Center stepped up with safety precautions and ongoing online programs, developing right along with the new normal, taking care of one another.

In some ways, the Daily Record’s award is a tribute to Gallery One staff members Renee Adams, Sarah Haven, Crista Ann Ames, Amy Davison and Clay Maer. But there is one that led the charge into the brave new world moving forward.

Gallery One executive director Monica Miller is recognized as the Daily Record Person of the Year for her efforts, directing the Ellensburg gallery in such a way that it was honored as part of the 2021 Governor’s Arts & Heritage Awards, along with the Asia Pacific Cultural Center in Tacoma, the Spokane Valley Summer Theatre and Path With Art in Seattle.

It’s a staff effort and big award, led by an executive director not afraid to think outside the box to keep the arts alive during one of the most deadly pandemics in history.

“Monica’s leadership during the pandemic was incredible,” Gallery One exhibition and publicity coordinator Renee Adams said. “The way she had us (the staff) shift everything online.

“We pivoted really quickly. The gallery shut down for a long time (adhering to safety measures out of the governor’s office). We had to cancel art classes, shift around exhibit schedules. One of the things we did was focus locally and cancel exhibits of artists from out of the area in order to have less people traveling during COVID. We hung up our work in the windows for a while and shifted all the classes online to keep moving forward.”

Local artist Jane Orleman was active in leading support for the Governor’s Arts & Heritage Award, writing a letter to the Luminary Selection Committee that eventually led to the statewide recognition.

Mayor Bruce Tabb, Gregg Schlanger, Chairman of the Department of Art & Design at Central Washington University and Xavier Cavazos, Board of Trustees, Humanities, Senior Lecturer in the CWU English Department, also factored into the show of support for the gallery.

“The first day I meet Monica when she joined the staff, I knew right way that some day she would be director,” Orleman said. “It was just so obvious that she had the skills and love of the arts, which is exactly what we needed to take care of Gallery One for a long, long time.”

Miller got her group together when pandemic health officials declared a stay-at-home policy in the battle against the spread of COVID-19. The art world is supported financially by people’s interest in the arts and without the day-to-day visitation, it became critical to develop or die.

“Monica applied for tons of grants, specifically for COVID-19 relief,” Adams said. “We received to PPP (Paycheck Protection) loans so she could keep paying employees. We got other grants, and all of that allowed us to keep working.

“One of the major things we’re really proud of is Art 2 Go Kids at School. We sent out 600 bilingual kits for local school children so they could make art from home. The Art 2 Go Kids included all the materials they needed create a project. We also created a video on YouTube so they could receive instruction.”

The staff brainstormed on other ideas to develop online, enabling them to continue to reach people. It hosted its annual fundraising effort online, which included a first-ever online bidding project.

Gallery One partnered with the CWU Diversity & Equity Center in celebrating Dia de Los Muertos to bring people together with a community Tapete (sand painting) created in the Gallery.

It also partnered with the Ellensburg Downtown Association and the Ellensburg Arts Commission to create large scale portraits of 36 business owners that were displayed in store fronts during closure. The project served as a reminder to stand with local businesses during this challenging time.

“Winning the Governor’s Arts & Heritage Award is amazing,” Adams said. “We are all honored to receive that award. It’s an indicator of the work we did.

“Jane (Orleman) is a local art celebrity. She recognized all the work we put in, so it was pretty cool she vouched for us and wrote the letter to the selection committee.”

It certainly was a collective effort with the executive director at the forefront, and for that Monica Miller recognized as the Daily Record Person of the Year.

Rodney Harwood: award-winning journalist and columnist. Lover of golf and the written word. I can be reached at rharwood@kvnews.com