What Happens When a Phoenix Gallerist Gets Cancer? Artists Rally — Here's How

Laura Dragon, founder of {9} The Gallery and co-founder of Grand ArtHaus.
Laura Dragon, founder of {9} The Gallery and co-founder of Grand ArtHaus.
Alexandra Gaspar

Phoenix gallerist Laura Dragon recently was diagnosed with cancer, and artists are finding creative ways to show their support.

Dragon founded {9} The Gallery in 2012. Since then, she's presented more than 100 art exhibitions. Several Phoenix creatives, including Jon Wassom and Lauren Lee, credit Dragon with helping them launch thriving art practices.

Dragon has adenocarcinoma of the lungs. It’s a stage 4 cancer, meaning it’s spread to other parts of her body. Dragon’s treatment plan includes radiation and chemotherapy.

After learning the news, several local artists, including Lee and Niki Woehler, sprang into action.

“We’d like to take the financial stress off of her incredibly crowded plate, at least for a while,” Woehler says.

Woehler and Lee have organized both a benefit art auction and an online crowdfunding campaign to help Dragon with medical bills and future gallery operations. Additional friends are part of these efforts, too.

Crowdfunding allows people to make online donations to particular causes. In Dragon’s case, there’s the “Heart of the Dragon” GoFundMe account, set up on Thursday, May 4. Organizers hope to raise at least $30,000 though the campaign. But if that goal isn't met, the money raised still goes toward the cause.

As of 10 a.m. on Wednesday, May 17, they’d raised $9,036 through 113 donations, mostly in the $10 to $500 range. Several donors have left comments sharing ways Dragon has affected people's lives.

Phoenix artist Megan Koth, whose work has been shown at {9} The Gallery, wrote, "Laura, you are such an amazing woman who has made such a difference in so many artists' and art lovers' lives."

The GoFundMe page also includes a three-minute video, featuring reflections from artists and Dragon's family members. The video opens with Dragon talking about her gallery space.

“{9} is my life, {9} is my home,” she says. “It’s everything that I’ve ever wanted. It gives me the opportunity to be truly alive.”

Dragon is spending less time at {9} The Gallery these days, but has several family members and artists working to keep the gallery running. Although she's got some ideas about how the gallery may evolve in coming months, she hasn't announced any changes.

But one things is certain: She wants {9} The Gallery to remain a staple of the Phoenix arts scene for a long time.

Installation view of an Aileen Frick exhibition at {9} The Gallery.
Installation view of an Aileen Frick exhibition at {9} The Gallery.
Laura Dragon

That dedication is why so many artists are donating artwork for a benefit “Heart of the Dragon” exhibition and auction.

The exhibition opens on First Friday, June 2. Dozens of artists have donated work for the show, which will be part of a silent auction at the gallery that night. Some have created pieces specifically for this exhibition.

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At this point, the show is scheduled to run through Saturday, June 24. But there's a chance every work could sell before then. In that case, Woehler says, blank walls would actually be a good thing.

For Dragon, the exhibition is also a way to celebrate the 5-year-anniversary of her beloved art space.

Participating artists include Andy Brown, David Dauncey, Robert Gentile, Kyllan Maney, JB Snyder, and Yuko Yabuki. Event organizers Woehler and Lee are also donating artwork. And the evening also includes live music, as well as small bites and beverages.

Since founding {9} The Gallery in 2012, Dragon has shown works by hundreds of artists. Lee, an artist renowned for public murals in several places including Roosevelt Row and Tempe, had her first solo show at {9} The Gallery.

“It changed everything for me,” Lee says of that exhibition.

The gallery’s most popular past exhibitions include “Tiny Works, Tiny Dances,” which featured small-scale works by dozens of artists accompanied by dance performances on 4-by-4-foot stages.

Grand ArtHaus co-founders Michael Viglietta, Laura Dragon, and Robert Gentile gathered at {9} The Gallery.
Grand ArtHaus co-founders Michael Viglietta, Laura Dragon, and Robert Gentile gathered at {9} The Gallery.
Lynn Trimble

Though {9} is home, Dragon’s reach extends beyond the downtown Phoenix space.

In 2016, she launched an artist studio and exhibition space called Grand ArtHaus with artists Robert Gentile and Michael Viglietta. Artists with Grand ArtHaus studios include Lee and Lucinda Yrene, to name just a few.

Its most notable exhibition to date was “Nasty Women: Phoenix Unite,” a show Dragon organized with four other women. Incorporating visual art, poetry, and dance performance, the show was part of a larger international art movement protesting threats to women, immigrant, and LGBTQ rights.

But Dragon has also worked on a national level. In 2016, she presented an exhibition of works by Arizona artists in Miami, during the renowned Miami Art Week.

Dani Godreau, a Phoenix artist whose work has been shown several times at {9} The Gallery, is excited to see so many artists working together on Dragon's behalf. "Seeing the collective support of the Phoenix art community pouring in is a beautiful thing," Godreau says.

"The Heart of the Dragon" takes places Friday, June 2 from 6 to 10 p.m. For details, visit the "Heart of the Dragon" event page on Facebook.

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