The Payson art scene has taken on a new dimension with the recent arrival of Jay and Kasandra LeBow.
The LeBows are longtime gallery owners, art collectors and dealers who relocated from the Valley, bringing with them several concepts for integrating the Rim Country's business and art communities.
"Our vision in coming to Payson was to assist in developing the area as an art and cultural destination," Kasandra said. "History has proven that if an environment is going to grow, it's going to grow aesthetically if you first develop your arts.
"Then people come in for the arts and there's a residual money flow throughout the community, and it keeps the dollars in Payson."
The initial enterprise the LeBows have undertaken is an "arts and business alliance," a series of artist receptions and showings they plan to hold on a monthly basis at local businesses. The first reception featured the work of Wisconsin artist Nancy Chybowski and was held Aug. 19 in the offices of Steven Booth, a local dentist, and his wife Cynthia, a gynecologist.
"It's a small monthly reception that allows the business to interact with their clients and their patients on a social basis," LeBow said. "It's a lovely, idyllic concept."
The LeBows, who call their company Integrity Arts, believe the key is to make artwork accessible rather than threatening.
"Over the years, galleries have had such an ability to keep people away from enjoying artwork," Jay said. "They have an attitude; they have created such an atmosphere that if you are not an aficionado you are not going to walk into a gallery.
"Here we are (at the LeBows' receptions) having a glass of wine. You come and go as you please."
In the process, art becomes a unifying element in the community.
"We want to show the community how easily art can be a focal point to gather around in a social situation," Jay said. "You see people you don't normally get to talk to in a social situation, and brainstorm with each other about different things."
The LeBows moved to Payson because they believe their vision can be implemented most effectively in a smaller community, in part because the political barriers are less formidable. Before moving here they owned and operated galleries in Santa Fe, Burlington, Vt. and Scottsdale. Their goal is to open an art gallery in Payson, possibly by next spring.
"We're talking about a major art gallery that will be a meeting place," Jay said. "We want to not only represent quality artists, but to have classes, to involve the local schools, to touch the community much the same way we've created the arts and business alliance."
Other plans include a farmers, fine artists and crafters market from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays between Jiffy Lube and Taco Bell in the Bashas' shopping center. The LeBows hope to open the market on Sept. 17 and run through Nov. 19, then open again next year in April.
"Once again we're creating a destination, and everybody is welcome to participate," Jay said.
One of Kasandra's pet projects is called Artists Rock for Non-Violence.
"Living in the Valley, it seemed like violence was accelerating," she said, "so I wanted to create an outlet, a voice to deliver the message that there is a creative alternative to violence."
While an effort to stage a major concert in the Valley was put on hold by the events of Sept. 11, the LeBows still hope to make it happen, perhaps starting in the Rim Country with a battle of the bands competition.
Regardless of the venture, the LeBows firmly believe their efforts must showcase and enrich the community.
"It does not mean you come here to present artists' work and neglect local charities; nor do art festivals and exclude working with the children, which are the lifeblood of the community," Jay said.
Their objective is to champion the arts at a time when they are too often minimized.
"In every school situation (art) is the first thing that is cut back, and it is something that adds so much to the quality and character of an individual," Jay said. "As soon as they have the opportunity to spread their wings and fly, most young people leave Payson because there is so little here to offer them, especially in terms of the arts and culture."
The LeBows are confident they can use their experience and expertise to have an impact on the community they have adopted.
"If you come with a vision that does not exclude, but includes the populace in a smaller community, you have the opportunity to make a difference for all the best reasons," Jay said. "We intend to shake things up."
The LeBows can be reached at (928) 474-9819 or visit their website at www.integrityartsinternational.com.
Coming art show
The next arts and business reception will be held from 5-8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 23, at Phil White Ford in Star Valley. The LeBows plan to put their entire personal art collection up for sale at the event for "a fraction of its actual value." Any amount paid above a discounted asking price will go to the Katrina relief effort. "The LeBow collection, assembled over 30 years, includes national and international artwork," Jay LeBow said. "Some of these pieces are absolutely exquisite."