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Open Space Opens

The latest DIY arts hive plants roots in Remington

Frank Klein
Open Space organizers (pictured in no particular order) Brendan Sullivan, Erin Mcaleavey, Conor Stechschulte, Andrew Kennedy, Eric Steiner, Geoff Kixmiller, Neal Reinalda, Pete Aaron, Adam Vorozilchak, Matt Bettine, Chris Day, Molly O'Connell, Scotty Ache, and Eddie "Harvey" Melchor enjoy a local landmark.

By Alex Ebstein | Posted 9/30/2009

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Behind the alligator mural on 28th Street, the Baltimore Body Shop began to show signs of life and late-night activity back in June. Afghans hung from the windows and large groups of twentysomethings gathered on the sloped driveway, going in and out of the functioning repair shop. The year-long goal of 15 MICA students and recent alumni had finally found an unorthodox home in the renovated back room of the auto garage. Open Space, an art gallery and music venue, fills a hole left by the recent unavoidable hiatus of the Current Gallery.

The space itself "was pretty filthy and dusty when we first moved in," says Brendan Sullivan, one of the gallery's co-founders/organizers. He's joined by Matt Bettine, Eric Bos, Andrew Kennedy, Erin McAleavy, Molly O'Connell, Pete Razon, Neal Reinalda, Conor Stechschulte--members of the collective staff that run Open Space (not present: Scott Ache, Chris Day, Geoff Kixmiller, Eric Stiner, Adam Vorozilchak, and Harvey Melchor)--around a coffee table in the studio space above the gallery. The group fires off details of the space's transformation during the past three months.

"We had to saw out pieces of metal that were sticking out of the floor," Kennedy says.

"And there used to be giant boards over the windows, with like, 20 years of dust and grime that we scraped off," Bos adds.

"There was a raised-up Isuzu Trooper in the gallery when we first moved in," Kennedy says. "We joked about having that be our first show--just the truck." The others laugh.

The gallery downstairs is clean now, with white walls, track lights, a glossy floor, and the first exhibition--Lab Door/Ozone Shelf, featuring Eamon Espey, Andrew Liang, and Matthew Thurber--installed. But every day during the week before the opening, at least three members were still putting in long days to get the space ready.

The group has been hatching the idea for this space for awhile. "Neal [Reinalda] had been talking to us all in different groups as early as last September and we all got excited about it," Bettine says.

"I knew I wanted to do something after I graduated from MICA, and it depended on what sort of space I could get," Reinalda adds. He's the group's principal public-relations figure, and Open Space's provocateur. "If it was bigger, I could have a venue, and if it was smaller, [I could] have it be a gallery or smaller book store. We found this space, and the fact that there are so many people involved makes it more financially viable."

But working with so many people is equal parts benefit and hurdle; coordinating schedules with so many people is difficult, but sharing costs and responsibility made taking on the renovations less daunting. "Having so many people, if everyone chips in $10, you have a lot of money to work with," Bos says.

Reinalda agrees. "People will take on a project that they're interested in doing financially," he says. "So [costs] gets spread out."

Members of the group also have varied tastes, but they feel Open Space's creative/curatorial direction benefits from such differences. Lab Door/Ozone Shelf is primarily the effort of member Molly O'Connell, who is also a member of Closed Caption Comics. "Molly really jump-started the first show and put it together," Sullivan says. "But it will be different with each show, and part of the idea in naming it 'Open Space' was to invite other voices and outside curators, different people we know to curate shows and use the space."

Everyone gets more excited when the discussion turns to upcoming shows, and they all want to keep the exhibition's aesthetic constantly changing. "We don't want to become predictable," Reinalda says.

"And we don't want people to be discouraged from sending in a proposal because they think we have a certain style," McAleavy adds.

Open Space ambitiously plans to produce between 10-12 shows per year, meaning the collective members work on many project simultaneously. Reinalda has invited two recent MICA graduates, Malcolm Lomax and Dan Wickerham, to have the run of the space in a two-man exhibition titled King Me that opens Oct. 16. For another upcoming exhibition, the group compiled a list of 40 painters, which they eventually whittled down to five. Long-term, the group is keeping in contact with similar start-up spaces in Richmond, Philadelphia, Chicago, and on the West Coast. O'Connell plans to revive her "Cream Dream Lecture Series" that she held at MICA, bringing in guest speakers such as Ian Svenonius and Brendan Fowler.

The collective would also like to get more involved with its neighborhood. "Ideally, we'd like to have a community presence," Stechschulte says. "Remington has so many programs, like the tool swap and the community garden, it would be nice to become more involved."

So far, this gallery's start-up timing has been fortuitous. The building is affordable, commercially zoned, conveniently located, and catching on quickly. "Other people have laid the groundwork for our space to be possible," Reinalda says. "And then to see all these people that I look up to come by the space is really amazing."

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