Shortly after Donna Bowers opened her Midtown art gallery and handmade jewelry shop in Cooper-Young 10 years ago, she drew crowds so large that at times she worried about violating fire codes. These days, she may go a month without a single $5 jewelry sale.
"There are many days when no one walks through the door," Bowers said, seated on a comfy red couch inside her shop at 798 S. Cooper, the walls of which are lined with brightly colored paintings.
Painted Planet isn't only an art gallery. It's a fund-raiser for Bowers' cancer ministry, Healing Planet. Money raised from art and jewelry sales funds monthly spa nights for women living with cancer, cancer survivors, and caregivers.
"The reason I keep Painted Planet, even though I love the art, is mainly for Healing Planet. So many people have had their hearts and lived changed," Bowers said.
On the second Monday night of each month, Healing Planet's ladies gather at Painted Planet for free massages, makeovers, boxing lessons, yoga, nutrition classes, and all sorts of feel-good activities.
"We don't really talk about cancer while we're here. It's a happy group, and we giggle and have fun," said Bowers, who survived breast cancer more than eight years ago. "We have people in all stages of the fight, and this really lifts their hearts and spirits. You can see there's life after cancer."
But with a lack of art sales, Bowers is behind on her rent and looking for ways to reinvent the gallery.
"We have to come up with $2,400 a month to pay our rent and utilities and stuff. We're broke now, but we keep it going for the cancer ministry," Bowers said. "We're not considered a nonprofit, so we don't get any deductions. We pay for it out of our profits when there are profits. But there haven't been profits in forever."
Bowers is hoping to change that by setting up a recording studio inside Painted Planet. She purchased a 24-track recording system on eBay, and she's soundproofed the shop's back room.
The studio will be a low-cost option for musicians who can't afford to record at one of the larger local studios. Bowers said they'll initially record artists for free. Once business picks up, they'll start charging $50 per hour.
As part of the package, Bowers' husband Danny, a photographer, will shoot the musicians' promo photos. A silk screener who has a relationship with the gallery has offered to make T-shirts for musicians who want them, and Painted Planet will host pre-recording parties.
"The musicians can warm up when the art opening is starting. That means people here for the art opening will learn their names and make that connection," Bowers said. "A month or so later, we'll have a CD-release party for those same artists."
Bowers said she knows the recording studio won't "set the world on fire financially," but she's only striving to keep the doors open at this point. If the plan doesn't work, she said she may be forced to take her show on the road.
"Our lease here is up in October. After that, if we have to close, we'll do a mobile art gallery and host shows at offices, salons, or restaurants," Bowers said. "I don't give up. My dad would always tell me, your word is your bond, and if your word is no good, you're not worth spit."
The next public event at Painted Planet — called "Celebrate the Planet" — will be held on July 7th, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. The event features live music and live painting, as well as magicians, clowns, and face painters for the kids.