Bedroom, kitchen, art gallery
Homes, gas stations, hair salons house art exhibits and musical performances in hard times.
After years of training at the School of the Art Institute, Edra Soto Fernandez of Chicago never imagined a show of her new work would be exhibited in a small bedroom that requires walking up four flights of stairs and passing through a kitchen and by the living room couch.Skip to next paragraph
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Yet despite having her work exhibited in commercial galleries and museums in Puerto Rico, Chicago, and New York City, Ms. Soto Fernandez says she would have it no other way. "It seems easier and easier for artists to open their living rooms and people are excited by that," she says. "It's idyllic in a way."
Unexpected gallery and performance spaces are popping up in apartments, vacant storefronts, living rooms, gas stations, hair salons, and anywhere else artists connect with a landlord anxious for a tenant in a housing market crippled by foreclosures and a credit crisis.
Alternative art spaces are, in their quiet way, running in reverse of thecurrent economic downturn. As new-construction condos, main streets, and other vestiges of former good times shutter, artists are stepping up in greater numbers to reimagine potential blight. Which means anywhere you turn – a hallway in San Francisco, a bathroom in Chicago, an abandoned storefront in Dallas – you may be stepping into a gallery space, with art chosen to aesthetically fit its new home.
Borders between the commercial, nonprofit, and underground gallery worlds are softening; now, artists are encountering possibilities – addresses in upscale neighborhoods or buyers willing to mine for new work in funky spaces.
"Creative retail is the future, not just for downtowns, but in general," said Kourtny Garrett, senior vice president of marketing for Downtown Dallas, a nonprofit that works with the city to encourage partnerships between artist groups and developers. Artists are receiving grant money to revitalize spaces plus subsidized rent money to lock in leases for up to five years.
The city helped shepherd Contemporary Art Dealers of Dallas, a gallery association, into a 4,000-square-foot storefront vacant for years. Since opening last September, 4,600 people have attended group shows at the space, which director Anne Lawrence said is due to the city "taking a chance." "Creating a presence on Main Street downtown was important," says Ms. Lawrence. "Who wants a vacant building?"
Sometimes art can find the building a buyer. Boston realtor Will Brokhof taps artists he knows not just to help them in their work, but to sell a few properties. Mr. Brokhof regularly curates weekend art openings in homes he is representing – if they are new construction lofts, he makes sure the developer has not painted the walls to give the space a gallery feel. He says he has sold 10 properties over seven shows, which often include live music and catering. Artists also benefit – at his last show, $10,000 of art was sold.
"When we first started, a lot of [the artists] were a little apprehensive and a little disgusted, [saying] 'Hang art in a house we can't actually own?' The reality is, after they sold a bunch of art and saw people were genuinely interested in their stuff, they were like, 'Oh, I see,' " he says.