Chad Hancey's friends and family gave him an unusual present for his birthday in 2009 -- an art gallery. He didn't actually get to keep the gallery, but the gift of knowing he helped bring it into being.
The Snow Horse Art Gallery, a project of the Davis Arts Council, opens with a reception at 7 p.m. Saturday in the hall connecting the Davis Conference Center and Hilton Garden Inn in Layton. Admission is free and open to the public.
The inaugural exhibit features paintings by nine professional artists living in Davis County: Farmington resident Simon Winegar; Larry Wade, Ann Marie Oborn and Garth Oborn, of Bountiful; Judy Cooley, Terrece Beesley and Carol Merrill, all of Layton; Kaysville's George Handrahan; and Scott Brough of Syracuse.
Creation of the gallery has been on the Davis Arts Council's to-do list for almost three years.
"I started at the Davis Arts Council in Feburary 2008, and the week I started I was contacted by Chad," said Kirt Bateman, executive director of the council. "He was a relatively new board member at that point, and he mentioned how there was a lack of programming on our part for the visual arts side of the arts, and also how north Davis County seemed to lack an official gallery."
Hancey says he "started the ball rolling" on the art gallery so others would have the opportunities he had.
"I majored in art at Weber State University," he said, and worked as an illustrator for 13 years. "When I was a student in the Ogden City school system, I had the opportunity to participate in an art show. That really inspired me to go after my dreams as an artist."
Hancey wanted northern Davis County to have a gallery where professionals, amateurs and students could show their work, and it would be seen by many people.
"Galleries are only as successful as the number of people they can get in to see the art," he said.
During a visit to the Davis Conference Center, he decided it was a great location.
"I walked past a gigantic bare wall and thought, what a shame -- there are all these people walking past it, so there's great exposure, and nothing on it," he remembered.
He called Bateman, who negotiated a deal with the conference center's management.
To display the art in a professional way, the Davis Arts Council had to come up with enough money to buy and install hardware for hanging it, and proper lighting. Some of the fundraising was pretty imaginative.
"My wife threw a surprise birthday party for me," said Hancey. "She invited anyone and everyone I know, and rather than a gift, she asked people to bring a donation to the gallery."
The party brought in more than $2,500, tucked in birthday cards filled with encouraging words about the art gallery.
Local business people, and even high school students, also chipped in.
"As student artists became aware of it, they would contribute $10 to $20 here and there, because they felt excited and passionate about it," said Bateman.
Keeping the gallery open will require continued fundraising, but Hancey says much can be done by thinking creatively.
"We did this without taking any tax money," he said.
The first three exhibits are already planned. After the initial exhibit of professional work, there will be a display of student work. The high school juried exhibit, featuring artists from schools in north Davis County, opens April 15. The Davis County Artists Amateur juried exhibit is set for Sept. 10.
People who meet at the Davis Conference Center may run across the Snow Horse Art Gallery by accident, but Hancey and Bateman hope the space will become a "destination."
"Every Davis County resident, along with thousands of conference-goers, will have the opportunity to experience free art exhibitions featuring local artists," said Bateman.