The Art of Downtown Napa

icarus_thNapa has a rich history of supporting the arts and now from the Opera House to the Hess Collection, from public art installations to downtown gallery owners, Napa is fast becoming an art lover’s destination. The many active studio artists in Napa are adding to the mix with their annual Open Studios self-guided tour organized by Arts Council Napa Valley.

Linda Cordair of Quent Cordair Gallery on First Street has been very happy with her move to Napa. Quent Cordair Gallery opened on July 4, 2008 after 13 years in Burlingame. The gallery specializes in “Romantic Realism” and has a very strong web presence. Ms. Cordair has found that moving to Napa has given her clientele a great excuse to travel here for their art-buying, particularly as Cordair has conveniently partnered with local hotels. “This is a world class destination more exciting for our clients to visit. They travel from as far away as Switzerland, New Zealand and China for our collections and with the completion of the River Front project we can really see a positive direction for downtown Napa. We want to do all we can to help fill the empty storefronts and bring more galleries here.”

Long time public art champion, Harry Price, managing partner of CDI, developer of the Napa River Inn project and Napa Square on First Street, has this to say about the role of art in the community, “Art is an integral component of civilizations; we look back to them and look at what type of art they created. It is a measure of civilization and culture, so we honor our own culture by the art we leave behind.”

Shepp1Mr. Price invited Fullbright Scholar and resident Napa artist Alan Shepp to create the “Ars Longa Vita Brevis” (Life is Brief but Art Endures) mosaic for the Napa River Inn courtyard, a piece that garnered a Napa County Landmarks Award of Merit for Public Art. Mr. Shepp’s wife, Diane Dame Shepp, is co-chairing the newly formed Napa County Commission on Arts and Culture. The NCCAC serves as the primary advisory body to the Napa County Transportation and Planning Agency for arts and cultural planning. The Commission is working with the Arts Council of Napa Valley on a proposed Public Art Ordinance for the City of Napa.

When asked, Mrs. Shepp expanded on her beliefs about the role of public art. “Simply put, as an art advocate and professional, I speak to the fundamental, intrinsic value of art to the human experience and the vital role the arts play in the economic health and quality of life of our community….this has been proven many times over, from large metropolitan cities to small rural towns, and Napa County is no exception.   Art in the Public sector creates a positive economic impact and key stimulus for business and tourism and, beyond beautification, Public Art is a catalyst for community revitalization,” said Shepp.

Certainly the number of visitors and public recognition for the “Ars Longa Vita Brevis” mosaic are proof-positive of this philosophy.

Cass Walker has the Redevelopment Agency closely aligned with the importance of art in the community by designing an “Art Walk” program for Napa and reinstalling the 1975 pieces in Dwight Murray Plaza. Ms. Walker also points to the new Gordon Huether installations on the Fifth Street Garage as examples of Napa’s continuing commitment to art. Mr. Huether, who recently opened a working studio-gallery on Monticello Road, The Hay Barn Gallery, has this to say about art in Napa: “Napa is fully on the cusp of becoming an important destination, which is exciting because we are just at the beginning. You could count on ½ a hand the number of art galleries downtown. There is some public art and with the help of a public art ordinance, the excitement will continue to build. Soon Napa will be the destination it deserves to be and the public’s accessibility to art will be a big part of that success.”

Sherrell Harper, president of the Napa Valley Art Association and an exhibiting artist in her own right is the Board President for the non-profit Art Association, which nurtures new artists in the community. The Art Association gallery, Artists of the Valley, on First Street in the Oxbow District offers local artists a place to exhibit and also get feedback on their work. The Association takes 25% of gallery proceeds for their continuing art scholarship fund for young artists. “I see our purpose as a win-win trifecta; a chance to see local art, a chance for artists to display and sell their work, and a chance to fund scholarships for future artists” says Harper. For more information view their website at

The richness, proliferation and diversity of art in Napa is one of our civic achievements to be both flaunted and congratulated. Few towns of Napa’s size can boast as many outlets for artists, their works and their collectors.


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