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Establishing Temporary Art Galleries in Vacant Storefronts
Pacifica’s Oceana Art Gallery
by Victor Spano and Vasu Narayanan
Introduction: Temporary Art galleries have been used in numerous cities to improve streetscapes and draw traffic to commercial areas. There have been a number of articles written about these projects that have had financial sponsorship from municipalities, but not one example where a municipality had no material participation. Replacing vacant storefronts, these galleries create new energy, and often draw new commercial tenants to vacant storefronts.
During 2010, City of Pacifica, CA, formed an “Economic Development Committee” (EDC) consisting of City Manager, two Council Members, and reps from Chamber of Commerce and Business. The Committee has sought to address economic issues that the City has faced over the past few years as a result of the national recession. Numerous projects have been taken on, including, but not limited to: branding, location maps, business retention and attraction, building and planning process improvement, organizing of merchants associations and cooperation with entitles such as Small Business Administration.
One of the shopping centers in Pacifica, Eureka Square, has suffered the most with a vacancy rate of over 50%. One of the EDC members had visited a “storefront art gallery” called the “Phantom Gallery” during 2008 in the City of Santa Rosa, sponsored by the Santa Rose Redevelopment Agency. The idea was to do something like that at Eureka Square, or any of the city’s vacant spots, was suggested in August 2011. This would marry artists to a landlord and fill a long vacant space.
With no possible funding available from City of Pacifica, the EDC looked inwards to figure out how a similar program could be established, to temporarily tenant one of the vacant storefronts. One of the EDC members, an independent grocer, owner of “Oceana Market” in the Eureka Square Shopping Center played a pivotal role in first approaching the landlord, via its management company, and shepherding the project to fruition.
Pacifica has an active artists community, which takes the form of the Art Guild of Pacifica, with over 400 members. Discussions were held between EDC members and Art Guild with goal of establishing a gallery at the troubled shopping center. There was agreement by all that this would be a great program, but there were a number of issues to be overcome: making agreement with the landlord for a “free rent” month-to-month tenancy, financing the needed tenant improvements, insurance and staffing.
The Art guild and landlord were prodded by the grocer to craft a month to month agreement, which allowed both parties flexibility. City of Pacifica was not a party of this rental agreement. Art Guild would be ultimately be responsible for all utilities and upkeep, however to get started, all the costs for building out the gallery and ongoing operating expenses are borne by Oceana Market, the sponsor. It is hoped that some income from the artists themselves, (from the art shows and use of the space as a venue for other functions) could be reinvested and used to pay the operating expenses nominal utilities. Insurance on the space was accomplished via a rider on the Art Guild’s existing policy on their existing facility elsewhere in town. (Again Oceana Market is reimbursing the additional insurance premium until the gallery becomes self-sufficient).
The biggest obstacle was furnishing the space to accommodate art displays. The empty space (a former martial arts school) needed a total upgrade. Lighting would be needed for illuminating the artwork. Some furniture was needed. Oceana Market, stepped up to use their own handymen to install temporary movable light fixtures, paint the place, upgrade bathrooms, and cover some of the cracked flooring. To assist them, members of the Art Guild put in great deals of time to work on the gallery. Portability of the lighting fixtures and other improvements was an important consideration in the event the landlord let the space to a paying tenant. The installations can easily be moved elsewhere. After nearly 6 months of discussion, an attractive gallery was created.
Numerous artists were recruited to provide examples of their work for the grand opening. Restaurants and the grocer provided complimentary snacks and refreshments for the gala grand opening in April 2012. Nearly 150 or so attended. A shopping center with little life had a full parking lot for the first time in many years. The community has warmly embraced the project.
Art will be changed every six weeks, a second opening night was held in June 2012 with another large crowd gathering at the gallery. While use of thegallery by the public has initially been limited to weekends, drawing a steady stream of viewers to the center, the Oceana Market and the Art Guild are working to have more going on at the gallery during the rest of the week. “Live Art”…that is artists working on new art, is one of these new events, which will hopefully bring more traffic to the gallery. Staffing of the gallery, once a concern, has not been an issue, as there are adequate numbers of Art Guild members willing to pitch in and mind their gallery.
Word of the gallery has reached the city’s Hotel Business Improvement District, and the hotels recently requested all fliers for art gallery openings to provide for guests in the future. In conclusion, the essential elements for a program like this are: willing artists, willing landlord, some sponsorship on the part of private business, and some type of entity to carry the insurance for the gallery. Galleries such as these, involving no public funding, can be easily replicated and become community assets. The Pacifica EDC, using the Art Gallery Model, hopes to inspire similar enterprises, at no public cost, and is currently researching the establishment of a “Small Business Incubator”, which would also fill a vacant storefront, and hopefully nurture businesses which would in time occupy other vacant stores in the City.