Columbus, Ohio USA
Return to Homepage

Basement Party to High Street Gallery
The Beat Goes On for 83
By Cynthia Rosi
December 2011 Issue

Return to Homepage

Return to Features Index

LtoR, Spencer Mustine, Scott Yonker, Laura Sloan, Mic Wesson, and Nick Stull PHOTO © Larry Hamill

83 Gallery began in a basement in November 2008. Like a punk-rock house party, only an art party, they hung pictures from any artist who wanted in. You’d bring your own beer, or pick up a bottle in the sink, and chill with your art friends examining the creations on the walls.

“We had the basement and Geoff said, ‘we should hang artwork here and see if we can get our friends over,’” remembered Mic Wesson, 83 Gallery co-founder and communications director. “The next month we built floors in the basement. It evolved so we would do a show every Gallery Hop and people would come.”

After two years, the landlord caught up with what was going on in the lower level of 83 West First Avenue. By then Geoff Collins, 30, who’d come up with the idea of the parties, and his partner in art Mic Wesson, 27, had already decided to expand. They put up shows at Eleven at Hyde Park and other places around the Short North, keeping inclusivity at the core of their relationships with artists, and the house-party vibe.

They had also made friends and solidified into a collective including Nick Stull, Lauren Koenig, and Scott Yonker. They put art in any venue that wanted to hang it, including restaurants, bars, and hair salons. During this period they added Spencer Mustine, Maddy Beaumier, Jill Bremiller and Laura Sloan.

Growth spurt
“With the recession other people were struggling but we were growing,” Collins explained. Raised in Logan, he also lived in New York and Los Angeles before returning to Columbus. He holds down day jobs at Europia Wine and Spirits and the Short North Tavern. “Our starting costs were $500. If we can’t find it, we make it, and if we can’t make it, we make it happen.”

In the winter of the second year in the basement, the weather froze out the artists. Too cold to show, they found a warm port in a storm at the Bristol Bar, now closed, during January and February. Pop-up shows at Bristol Bar foreshadowed the hanging style at 83 Gallery today.

Pop-up shows thrive during recessions when prime real estate suddenly becomes vacant, and artists improvise. “Around the country it’s becoming more of a common thing by taking a vacant space and bringing it to life,” said Jill Bremiller, 29, creative consultant. “You find an empty space and rage in it all night and show some artwork.”

After moving out of the house at 83, they no longer had a place to show during Gallery Hop. The landlord of the ware-house that was to become Brothers Drake Meadery invited them into that open space.

“We brought in 25 artists and filled up the space that day and had a party that night,” Collins remembered.

Through two artists the collective met Mikey Sorboro, of Mikey’s Late Night Slice, who invited them to share his space, and 83 Gallery at 1038 North High Street was born in October 2010.

An inclusive attitude
83 Gallery hangs salon style. Pictures and sculpture pack the space, including pieces on the ceiling and sculpture under benches. “We have to do more shows and go harder and faster, which is pushing the envelope on the art scene,” said Collins.

Co-founder of 83 Gallery, Wesson, graduated in philosophy from OSU, and creates portraiture, photomontage, and works in mixed media, although he doesn’t have as much time to make art with his strong focus on running the business and his job as a care worker.

Wesson is proud of the way the gallery gives artists opportunities. “We’re very unique and innovative in the sense that galleries and even collectives are exclusive,” he explained. “What we’re trying to push is our inclusivity and our accessibility, as well as transparency.

“We make ourselves available to as many artists as possible. The artists take this opportunity and continue to improve themselves, and in it they improve us as well.”

This spirit of “buy local” and inclusivity permeates the gallery. From the art-lovers attracted to the laid-back, eye-catching house-party style on Gallery Hop night, to the policy of 83 Gallery itself.

“We don’t jury the artists,” said curator Laura Sloan, 25, who graduated from Ohio Wesleyan in photography and graphic design. “Everybody who wants to show gets a show. So you get a wonderful spectrum of artists and everybody is from Columbus or surrounding areas. It’s all local art.

“The whole idea is to inspire people to purchase art made by people in their community. No matter who you are, or what you do, you can be shown someplace in Columbus through us, or through our network.”

At first 83 Gallery recruited from Craig’s List, advertising for artists who wanted to show their work with no hanging fees. Most of the current residents came through Craig’s List. It’s a tool they still use.

House party atmosphere
Arlo Moon, 39, a self-taught painter in portrait and mixed media, who works as a warehouseman for Honeywell during the day, came from Craig’s List and remembers 83 Gallery when it was in the house. He drove by that unassuming building, wondering if it was for real. “That’s why I see people [packing this gallery], because there’s still a house party atmosphere. It’s entrepreneurial. Do it yourself.

“Nobody’s going to let you in the galleries here. People are from out of town. It’s against the rules to put a gallery in the basement and grassroots networking of artists.” Moon’s father is a traditional oil painter but never learned to show. “This is my 96th show. I’ve showed in Cleveland, Cincinnati, New York and Chicago now. I’ve had 34 sales. I’m self-taught.

“With dad he did painting his whole life but he didn’t know about showing art – I’m teaching him. Through this group I’ve met so many artists. Joss Parker’s taught me a tremendous amount.”

Moon improved noticeably as an artist, since coming to 83 Gallery, said Wesson. “He was doing basic abstract work and we have noticed how far along he’s come and how much he’s matured and the depth and complexity of his art. A lot of the residents consult and share ideas and we hope that helps too. He’s so prolific that he’s made great progress.”

Mentorship at the gallery isn’t a formal program, but the artists help whomever they can teach. But, when business picks up to the point the gallery owners quit their day jobs – the ultimate goal – art education and internships will be in their sights.

Sensory overload
At the November Gallery Hop, 83 Gallery celebrated its third full year hanging art, and its fourth annual show from the first show in the basement. At a far end of the narrow space, bands played bluegrass and acoustic rock while a young crowd packed the house, talking to the artists, buying art and scanning the walls. 83 Gallery grouped work by artist, and numbered their pieces, corresponding numbers to names in a flyer you pick up – and recycle – at the door.

83 Gallery's Head of Operations and co-founder Geoff Collins. Photo © Larry Hamill

The sensation of looking at the walls is like having multiple screens open on your computer. Everywhere there’s information, and if you don’t like what’s in front of you, you simply glance up. The effect is exciting and fresh, in part because you don’t know what to expect next. And that’s deliberate.

“At Ohio Wesleyan University we went to boot camp in terms of curating shows,” said artist Spencer Mustine who’s been with the gallery for about a year as head curator with Stull and Collins. “It was a very sterile environment. Coming into this space and going crazy on the walls – there’s sensory overload when people walk in here.”

83 Gallery talks about inclusivity and transparency, and artists appreciate that the gallery acts on those words. Tom Grebinski, 27, a CCAD grad who works as a projectionist and painter by day, showed in the house basement. “People would come in and grab a beer and look at the art. Casual. I was hanging in coffee shops, but I preferred to hang with them than in coffee shops, because coffee shops seem lame.

“This has an edge to it. They let me show a lot of work. I show 10 pieces here for $40. A gallery would charge me $60 a month for 1 piece and take a commission after that. I produce a lot. This month I have seven pieces up and six are new. But it’s not like that every month. The number of people that come through here is incredible.”

Business model
83 Gallery assistant Maddy Beaumier, 23, grew up four blocks from the gallery. “There’s a lot of turnover [in the Short North]. It puts pressure on you to be great. Attention is really scattered so it compels people to offer something amazing to get people coming back and keep people interested.”

To keep interest high, the gallery asks for artists to make a commitment toward producing new work each month. They also continue to circulate art through other venues – Da Levee, Eleven at Hyde Park, Commonwealth Sandwich Bar – and run the walls at Brothers Drake Meadery.

In February 2010, the gallery hit the road for Chicago, taking along 20 artists. They hung an artist’s house, made a documentary about it, and rocked out to their house band The Cadaver Dogs. Artists at the gallery don’t have formal commitments in terms of volunteer time, but they do pitch in.

“Our hanging fees pay the bills,” said Wesson. “We have so many artists we don’t have to charge them much. We take 20 percent commission but sometimes waive that. We usually take a commission from the art around town, and venues pay as well. That gives the artists more exposure. We also rent out as an event space.

Collective or Co-op?

Artist Doug Fordyce believes art and business are at opposite ends of the spectrum and can stretch an artist thin. His co-operative, Studio 16, operated in the Short North for three years. Photo © Chris Thompson

“I think a co-operative is more individual [artists]; a collective is individuals working together to further their own group. But I don’t think we’re either,” Wesson mused. “We are essentially a gallery. We would be closer to a co-op, but we are here to further the gallery rather than our individual pursuits. We are not doing it for ourselves; we’re doing it for the artists that show with us.”

One seasoned hand at the co-operative gallery approach has a few words of reflection for the new kids on the block. Doug Fordyce, 46, ran Studio 16 for three years, and found administration ate deeply into his creative time.

“I learned a lot about the business of art and made friendships and connections that are with me to this day,” remembered Fordyce. “My co-op worked by artists paying a monthly fee and agreeing to do 5-10 hours of volunteer time, doing things like gallery sitting, hosting figure drawing or working a reception. We also offered classes and workshops and monthly open critiques. We tried to be a resource for new artists as well as those already established. A lot of the artists and students from Studio16 have continued on and done amazing things in the Columbus Art community.

“The downside of this type of model is that making art is usually a solitary pursuit and artists often underestimate the time they need to complete their work. The result is that getting the business and administrative tasks completed can be frustrating. Art and business are, in my opinion, at opposite ends of the spectrum and can stretch the artist thin. However, in today’s art scene, being a businessman and promoter can be just as important as making the art if the artist is to be successful.”

The growing number of co-operatives and collectives has not gone unnoticed by the Greater Columbus Arts Council. “In terms of trends I do think there’s an amazing collaborative and co-operative spirit in Columbus,” said Jami Goldstein, vice president of marketing, communications and events.

“That’s giving rise to independent artist collectives – artists working together in ways to help support each other and find affinities that are really important for the community. Columbus is at a point in its history, in size and aspirations, that we have the perfect storm happening.”

83 Gallery, 1038 N. High St,. will offer live entertainment and special events during Gallery Hop on December 3, 2011. Visit Facebook or email for more information.

© 2011 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

Return to Homepage