There are inherent risks whenever working people share spaces. But office folks, even if they work in one of those “shared office” businesses, have no concept of just how challenging shared studio space can be for artists.
One artist thinks, “I’m still in process here, so I don’t need to put my stuff away just yet.” The next one comes along and thinks, “I don’t know whose stuff this is; I’ll just leave my stuff out over here.” The third artist comes in and thinks, “Great. Looks like we can just leave our stuff out.” And so on. The first person never comes back; they’re off on a new project. Or else they came back, couldn’t find their stuff, and left again.
Then, sooner or later, someone comes by needing a temporary spot to store some big honking thing, and exclaims, “Hey, there’s a little space left in here!”
Well, you can see where this is going. And I speak from experience.
Not long ago, my favorite gallery in northern Idaho underwent a massive ownership overhaul. No, the building didn’t sell, but the major financial underpinnings disappeared and the director and staff were let go. It all seemed a crime to the regional arts community, but there was a silver lining to the predicament. Certain operating constraints also disappeared, along with a layer of other people to answer to. The gallery’s board and director decided to create a stand-alone nonprofit. All it would take would be some reconfiguration, a ton of energy, courage, and oh yeah, a lot of money, too.
It all seemed like an excellent, if Herculean, undertaking to me, but I volunteered to come in periodically and help with some mundane task or tasks (if I wouldn’t have to think too hard). I was offered the job of upstairs shop boss, even though there was no one to boss around anymore.
Over many years, the whole second floor had been studio space for a revolving number of artists. Also an occasional classroom space, admin office, gift shop back stock … and dance floor? There was a trap set in the corner when I arrived.
As my regular readers know by now, I can let spaces get really bad myself, but when I finally decide to tackle things, I have some awesome philosophies about it.
In this case, I was just the facilitator; the gallery director was the final decider.
So, first things first: dream time. What’s the potential here? How is it working, or not working right now? Like what is this big closet for, that we can’t step inside of?
What’s the biggest stuff, or the stuff nobody has claimed in years, that we can get out of here right now? (Making stuff go away is a major responsibility for shop bosses.)
That was enough for starters. I spread out and sorted, consolidated like stuff with like stuff, and at the end of each session I awaited the director’s run-through and check-off for final departure.
As we got into it, the space started clearing out, and more dreams bubbled to the surface or came into better focus. I just kept consolidating and sorting, and the director kept deciding. Things snowballed, but in a good way. Between my sessions, he refinished the floor and also an oversized, solid table, which was then moved into the main office, replacing furniture and alleviating clutter there. The director installed shelving in two storage closets, drywalled over crumbling plaster and updated lighting fixtures. Everything was painted.
Before we knew it — well, it actually took place over several months, but the space looked like it could actually function as a studio: spacious, light, clean and airy with a few big cleared-off tables on castors. All kinds of potential for art making.
And by fortuitous circumstances, and convoluted route, it so happened that recently arrived Venezuelan artist Elvis Rosendo had been searching for a studio space in town. He was welcomed as the first artist-in-residence. My own mind is blown away not only by his mastery of the painting medium, but of his incredible output. My Spanish is about as advanced as his English, but it’s been delightful to chat a few times, and I so look forward to learning more about the people and stories inside his paintings. His son, Argentinian based filmmaker Gabriel Rosendo will share the exhibit at Moscow Contemporary, Feb. 24-June 3, with a public reception from 5-7 p.m. Feb. 24.
It feels so rewarding to have helped make a space where work like this possible, and where others of us can learn and create too.
Leffingwell continues to work on and help others to downsize without moving or dying.