It was First Friday in downtown Camas and guests were beginning to pour into the new 411 Art Collective.
The three women behind the collective — photographer and mixed-media artist Lara Blair and abstract artist Heidi Curley and watercolorist Tamra Sheline — mingled with the crowd and showcased vivid, unique art pieces inside Blair’s art studio in the heart of Camas’ historic downtown at at 411 N.E. Dallas St.
The art collective’s grand opening celebration, punctuated by the Downtown Camas Association’s ribbon-cutting ceremony during the May First Friday festivities on Friday, May 5, marked the beginning of a new chapter in the three artists’ lives.
All three say the 411 Art Collective is meant to be not only a space where creativity can flourish and where the public can find new artwork to admire and own but a place where the artists can, as Curley states on her website, “build connection and stomp out loneliness.”
Blair signed the lease on her art studio at 411 N.E. Dallas St. a few weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered businesses, schools and most of downtown Camas in March 2020.
“It’s a really cool space. A happy, bright, cheerful space,” Blair said of her new studio in 2020. “When I’m in there, there’s no pandemic. It just feels different. Lighter. Like it used to be.”
As the years went by, Blair adapted to the pandemic and to the community’s needs — shifting from the nationwide “Front Porch Project” that photographed families sheltering at home during the pandemic’s earliest days to her 2022 “Pivot Project” art exhibit celebrating downtown Camas’ small business owners who had survived the pandemic’s hardships.
More recently, however, Blair said her studio space felt too large, too empty. She was longing for the company of other women, other artists.
Enter Curley and Sheline.
I would never have dreamed I’d have a studio down here again,” Curley said. She’d tried it once before — working out of a light-filled space above the Arktana shoe store on Northeast Fourth Avenue in 2018 and 2019 — but had returned to her home art studio after her father became ill and needed to move in with Curley.
Like Blair, Curley was craving the company of other creative women and looking for a way to break through the loneliness and isolation that had become second nature to so many during the height of the pandemic. She wondered if Blair might have room inside her 411 Dallas Street location for Curley to set up a small working studio and display some of her artwork. She also mentioned that a third artist — Sheline, a watercolor artist who says she is “drawn to the details and colors of nature,” and who uses a unique, tree-free paper known as Yupo to create the majority of her Pacific Northwest-inspired watercolors — might also be interested in joining forces with Blair and Curley.
The resulting 411 Art Collective has, so far, been a success, and has brought even more joy to the downtown Camas art space.
“Laughter, happiness and joy,” is how Sheline, a former graphic artist and illustrator, describes the feeling inside the new 411 Art Collective.
“We’re a trifecta of fun,” Blair said, laughing and gesturing toward Sheline and Curley.
Though photography is still her main passion, Blar’s creative spirit knows few boundaries. In the upstairs loft of the 411 Art Collective, Blair’s non-photography artwork — colorful donuts and macaroons. tiny beach scenes, vivid dioramas and framed portraits of Princess Leia and Frida Kahlo, all crafted from a blend of polymer and air-dry clays, paint and other art media — covers the walls and a long table.
The upstairs loft will double as an art space for Blair’s work as well as a classroom for the 411 Art Collective artists.
Blair, Curley and Sheline have already started offering classes inside the 411 Dallas Street space: iPhone photography and polymer clay jewelry classes with Blair; abstract florals and mixed-media art classes with Curley; and watercolor on Yupo paper with Sheline.
The classes are a cathartic experience for many participants, Curley said, and give participants a chance to find their creative side while connecting to other members of the Camas community.
“Everyone has creativity inside of them,” Curley said, adding that the new 411 Art Collective is meant to be a friendly, safe space where people — many of whom may not have worked on an art project since childhood — can let their creativity flow without judgment or expectations.
To learn more about the 411 Art Collective, or to view a list of upcoming classes, visit the physical space at 411 N.E. Dallas St., Camas; or go to the group’s online spaces at larablairartstudio.com/411-art-collective and on Instagram at insta gram.com/411_art_collec tive/.