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Divine Calling Serves Inmates and Artists

“I just want to say thank you for this good life!”

This is how Jill Divine finished her acceptance speech after winning the Literature Award on March 2 in the Flagstaff Cultural Partners Fifth Annual Viola Awards.

“I have lots of loves – I love art, poetry, wine and people.” In fact, it is the people factor that got her thinking it was time to open an art gallery – right in the middle of one of the worst recessions in decades.

“Writing is a very solitary profession and one reason I opened Gallery 113 was because I missed working with the community and being downtown and just talking to people. Having a gallery lets me talk with tourists and local people, and I love it.”

Divine came to Flagstaff from Kansas and then left and returned for good in 1992. In 1998, along with her business partner, Rhonda Worth, she opened Vino Loco. “I was pregnant and didn’t want to put my son into day care, so I decided to leave my job and open a business.” She credits her years in California for helping her to learn about wine. At the time, there was no dedicated wine store in town and she thought it would be a good niche. Divine owned and operated Vino Loco until 2007, when she sold it to focus on her son, her life and her writing.

Before taking the plunge to open Gallery 113 in 2012, Divine was busy as an adjunct faculty member at Coconino Community College and a barista for Starbucks. “Often in Flagstaff you have to multi-job.” So Starbucks and CCC kept her busy and provided income.

However, after two years with Starbucks, Divine was ready to move on and said, “I kept thinking – I really love art, artists and the public. So why not open a gallery?” She readily admits that once she decides to do something, she has a tendency to “dive in.”

Divine opened Gallery 113 on Birch Street hoping to “bring life to it” since the crowds of people who come downtown to galleries and shops often don’t end up on that street. However, after several months she realized that, although she loved the space and the street, she was not going to change the pattern of where people walk and shop in Flagstaff.

So when she got a call from West of the Moon Gallery’s Carolyn Young suggesting she check out her space on Aspen Avenue because Young was moving to a larger space on San Francisco Street, Divine jumped on it. She also found that selling fine art is a great idea but it isn’t enough to keep a business alive. She then started stocking both fine art and “lots of neat little items” such as soy candles, smaller art pieces and photo cards. She found by having both fine art, which she calls “museum pieces,” and smaller items, Gallery 113 can survive.

While planning her gallery, Divine felt a calling to “give back to this community that I love so much” but she didn’t have the funds to give donations so she came up with a creative solution –volunteer to teach poetry at the county jail. Currently, 48 men attend her classes on poetry every other week.

“Most of these men don’t have ways to express themselves and get out the yuck of their lives, but poetry gives them a way.” Teaching at the jail was the inspiration for a performance piece Divine was asked to present during the Viola awards.

“The morning of the Viola awards, I wrote a poem about teaching at the jail but that night, when I got up to read it, I was so nervous I forgot to talk about it before I read it to the audience, and it flopped – it didn’t make any sense. But when I realized I won the Viola award, I got up explained the poem and read it again and this time I nailed it.

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