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* For Woods & Associates, a temporary-help agency, one of the advantages of being located across the street from the Seattle Art Museum is easy access to the museum's Rental/Sales Gallery.

The gallery has 1,000 works by Northwest artists available for rent or purchase by individuals or businesses that are members of the museum.

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"It's very entertaining," says Coralie Allen, one of several people who visit the gallery now and then to return paintings and rent new ones to hang in their workplace.

"We bring the stuff back and everybody [in the office] comments," she says. Some pieces proved so popular that the company has bought them.

The gallery's purpose is threefold, says director Barbara Shaiman:

* It's a service to museum members, for whom membership fees are $30 a year.

* It helps local artists earn exposure and income; 50 to 60 percent of the rental fees go to the artists.

* It raises money for the museum. The operation of the gallery is cost-effective: the staff is made up entirely of volunteers, with the exception of Ms. Shaiman.

Customers pay 7.5 percent of the purchase price in order to rent a painting for three months. The gallery also sells its works through an installment plan - $50 a month and no interest, Shaiman says. Typically a piece is paid for within 50 to 75 months.

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"We have works by artists at every level," she says, including "people that have only showed a few times" and others who are well-known in the region.

Clients are on the honor system to return works, and theft has not been a problem, Shaiman says. "I don't know how this could be done in some of the big cities back east."

Business has been growing rapidly - up 25 to 50 percent a year - in the three years since the gallery moved into new street-level accommodations.

The rental operation has been going for 19 years, long before the Seattle Art Museum built its new home. Other museums around the nation have similar programs, such as one in Philadelphia that rents mostly to businesses.

"I get calls from all over the country from museums" that want to find out about how to run such a gallery, Shaiman says.

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