TOP: The Milton Artists’ Guild Art Center and Gallery is located in the Milton Hannaford shopping plaza. ABOVE: MAG president Gisela Alpert, left, and gallery curator Lorraine Manley are pictured last week. (Photos by Kaylee Sullivan)

Like the paintings and works that adorn the walls, the future of Milton’s lone art gallery is bright. 

Ernie Pomerleau, the Vermont developer who owns Hannaford Plaza, has extended the Milton Artists’ Guild Art Center and Gallery lease for a second rent-free year.

“We’re incredibly grateful to Mr. Pomerleau for giving us this opportunity and for believing in us — believing we are a good enterprise and investing in our future,” MAG president Gisela Alpert said.

Come March 2019, the two parties hope to figure out a business model that works for both sides, keeping the gallery intact. Rent for the storefront is priced at $80,000 per year, but the idea is to find a compromise, Pomerleau said. 

“Free forever probably is not a good option for me,” he said. “So we’re trying to develop an economic model.”

Already, Pomerleau’s team is working with MAG to develop a marketing plan, aimed at creating greater economic benefit for the volunteer-based gallery.

“When we first opened up this past April, we really weren’t sure how the community and surrounding communities would really accept or like us,” Alpert said. “So I can happily report that [they] are supporting us.”

Sales are good, and incoming traffic is pretty steady, she added. The goal, Alpert and Pomerleau said, is to attract more people to the gallery from neighboring towns, particularly Burlington.

MAG membership almost doubled this year, climbing from 99 to 177 — and growing. Of those 173 members, 90 — 36 of Milton — currently display their work in the brightly lit, 6,000-plus square foot gallery.

But when MAG first proposed the idea of moving in, Pomerleau thought the group would be “swimming in empty space.” To his delightful surprise, he was wrong. So, the proposal increased from two months of space to a year and now two.

Besides the $50 annual membership fee, MAG earns revenue through the various community activities and workshops it curates for the Milton community.

Last Sunday marked its first free “Social Sunday,” where Miltonians gathered to make art, drink coffee and enjoy one another’s company. Oil and watercolor painting, ornament felting, basket weaving, jewelry making, essential oils and beads workshoping and drawing live models with charcoal and pencil are among the planned workshops for a fee.

Once shoppers, artists or onlookers walk in the store, a volunteer worker greets them. At a 25 percent commission rate, artists display their work and man the store for four hours a month. If they can’t complete the latter, commission rises to 40 percent.

Shoppers then get lost in artwork as they make their way around the store to see paintings, photographs, coasters, pottery, jewelry, framing, CDs, books and cards. The latter is the store’s main staple, Alpert said, as the $3 items are a cry from more intricate pieces, priced up to $3,000.

Bowls, earrings, creative cow drawings, easing sunsets, alluring landscapes and complex pieces that work the brain — making onlookers stop and stare — all fill the store to its brim.

Both established and emerging artists are showcased. According to Alpert, it doesn’t matter which category one falls into. Because one day, “you will be great,” Alpert said, as artist Lise Morrison, formerly of Milton, contrived a driftwood shelf a few feet away.

Focused on greater community outreach, Alpert said she’s connecting with the Milton Family Community Center and other area organizations to build relationships that ensure art is available to people of all interests and socio-economic status. As an example, Alpert said MAG sponsors children whose families can’t afford to send them to workshops.

Collaboration is key, she added, noting MAG aims to have area wineries and microbreweries host tastings at the gallery. Milton’s Hillside Creamery has already done so, she said.

Come February, MAG is hosting a Valentine’s Masquerade Ball fundraiser at the Milton Eagles Club. Attendees will dream up their glittered, vibrant masks in advance at the gallery, Alpert explained.

Making MAG more visible to the Vermont community will create a sense of pride, appreciation of culture and economic development within Milton. Alpert said MAG can help “make Milton more desirable.”

“Art is something that a community really thrives on and benefits by, and I think people are pleasantly surprised by the amount of artistry that exists in Milton,” Pomerleau said.

Alpert agreed: “Art is for everyone,” she said.

Check out this week for a video of the artwork inhabiting the Milton Artists’ Guild Art Center and Gallery.

Editor’s note: The original version of this story stated artists are charged 60 percent commission if they cannot volunteer in the gallery. They are charged 40 percent. We regret the error.