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Art market: FM collectors, galleries making long-term investments in local culture

Terry Adams points out a piece of art from the expansive collection in the Fargo home he shares with Naomi Nakamoto. The couple have been collecting art for nearly 30 years and see their collection as a way to promote the work of friends and invest in the community. Kris Kerzman / The Arts Partnership1 / 2
Local art collectors Terry Adams, Naomi Nakamoto, and their dog, Mochi, are pictured in front of the many works of art in the living room of their Fargo home. Kris Kerzman / The Arts Partnership 2 / 2

FARGO - We’re about halfway through a tour of Terry Adams’ and Naomi Nakamoto’s expansive collection of art and artifacts, which includes hundreds of rock and fossil samples.

I ask a question about Adams’ interest in the Japanese concept of suiseki, the appreciation of natural stones, and he leaves the room to get an example.

Nakamoto laughs, acknowledging that our interview about local art collecting has veered slightly off course.

“You have to be careful expressing an interest in anything around here,” she says, and we both laugh.

As the economy of Fargo-Moorhead grows, so does the interest in art as a middle-to-high-end commodity. This increased interest is signaled by recent expansions of many downtown Fargo art purveyors, including Uptown Gallery, ecce gallery, Boerth’s Gallery, the Spirit Room and Gallery 4.

But this is a far cry from the national and global art markets – wildly volatile and unregulated investment options for the wealthiest of the wealthy –and it’s much more nuanced than basic retail, going beyond the simple buying and selling of objects and delving into areas of cultural preservation and development.

In the case of Adams and Nakamoto, who have been collecting art for about 30 years and whose collection crowds every free space on the walls of their home, it’s a point of intense passion and interest. The couple says they love to surround themselves with art, using it as a vehicle for their curiosity and as a way support the people, many of whom are friends, who create it.

“You just end up acquiring things by getting to know people,” Nakamoto says, touching on an intriguing dynamic between economic forces and human relationships.

Commodity, community

“I never dreamed I’d be able to make a part-time living making art,” says Suzanne Moser, vice president of Gallery 4 in downtown Fargo’s Black Building. She’s working at the gallery front desk as part of the gallery’s co-op model in which each represented artist must work at least three days a month to keep the doors open.

The painter, who comes from a retail background, has been with the gallery for about two years. As a longtime Fargo resident, she’s seen downtown at its worst and sees the influx of buyers from out of town as sign of its return to health.

“Right now, I would say about 80 percent (of our visitors) are from out of town,” she says. “Yesterday, I had a couple come in (from Kentucky) who had been to every state but North Dakota. They said ‘Let’s go see what the scoop is on Fargo,’ showed up here, and made their way up and down the street eating and looking at art.”

Sales are steady enough to keep the space open, and comfortably so, Moser says, but that isn’t the only positive she’s seeing. She says artists, like herself, and professionals, especially younger ones, are beginning to linger more around the gallery. They may not be buying art quite yet, but she says their presence brings a lot of energy.

Part of that energy includes repeated interactions that build a line of trust running from the artist to the gallery to the buyer. That’s a vital part of the equation for Steve Revland and Uptown Gallery. Revland works closely with corporate buyers who value his input and three decades’ worth of gallery experience.

But it isn’t all dollar signs for Revland, who says there’s a relationship between what he does and the greater goal of providing access to art across the community, praising venues like the Plains Art Museum that display art for cultural and aesthetic reasons, not commercial ones.

“To me, you have to continue to nurture young people, when their brains are full of mush, because you’re just a more well-rounded individual when music and art are part of your life,” he says.

New cultural horizons

The greater goal of a well-rounded population buying and appreciating visual art is also part of Mark Weiler’s approach. The ecce gallery owner says he likes to work with families who will build an ongoing collection that acts as a sort of cultural trust, one that could be handed over to a museum at some point in the future.

Beyond installing work in people’s homes, Weiler says his work as a gallerist has also come to involve the installation of art as an idea, taking on a sort of ambassadorship to the business sector (particularly Fargo’s burgeoning startup culture) and promoting the health of a community with a strong arts presence.

“I want to instill the idea that art spaces are important and art and culture are necessary in a downtown, that it can transform a downtown. That idea isn’t translated unless there’s a gallery culture. Once that appreciation is there and that support system for artists is there, it will enable the city to benefit,” Weiler says.

Weiler adds that anyone curious about beginning an art collection doesn’t need to have a lot of money, and anyone curious about art to know that they can start small.

The key to getting into collecting, Weiler says, is to focus on something more important than an object’s monetary value, namely the way it invites us to look at it, think critically about it, and enjoy it.

The effects from that simple act can reverberate through generations.