The Plain Dealer | Steven Litt  |  December 15, 2016

First look: Spaces ready to wow NEO art scene with renovated galleries in Hingetown (photos)

CLEVELAND, Ohio - To step inside the new home of Spaces gallery in the freshly renovated ground floor of the Van Rooy Building at 2900 Detroit Ave. is to enter a classic white space typical of urban contemporary art venues around the world.

With high ceilings, a rough-and-ready concrete floor and track lighting that produces a warm, even glow, the nonprofit gallery looks ready for action in the fourth location in its 38-year history.

Most important, Spaces is poised to gain higher visibility across Northeast Ohio and to boost the Hingetown neighborhood on the near West Side as a place where the arts are spurring an urban renaissance.

It all begins in one month.

On the weekend of Saturday, Jan. 14, and Sunday, Jan. 15, Spaces will celebrate its new location with a special progressive dinner for VIPs and donors at three locations in the surrounding neighborhood.

Time to party

From 8 pm to midnight, performances and installations will be staged in everything from bathrooms to offices, a kitchen, an artist's lounge and, of course, the new galleries.

And on Sunday, the 15th, Spaces will hold free tours of its new, 9,300-square-foot home, led by gallery director Christina Vassallo and architect John Williams of Process Creative Studios, which designed the renovation.

Spaces debut weekend

What's going on: Festivities at the new Spaces gallery.

Where: 2900 Detroit Ave., Cleveland.

When: Weekend of Saturday, Jan. 14, and Sunday, Jan. 15.

Saturday events:
VIP progressive dinner, 6-8 pm; tickets: $125 and $200. Opening party, 8 pm to midnight; tickets: $25.

Sunday event:
Free public tours of the gallery with director Christina Vassallo and architect John Williams, 12-5 pm

RSVP: To purchase tickets, call 216-621-2314 or go to

After that, a formal schedule of exhibitions begins with an opening on Friday, Jan. 27, with shows including "Havens," a project by Philadelphia-based Imani Roach that will explore the Jim Crow-era travel guides for blacks known as the Negro Motorist Green Book.

"I am totally enthusiastic," Vassallo said Monday, describing her emotions about the latest incarnation of Spaces and the shows it will soon display.

Vassallo, the former director of Flux Factory, a nonprofit gallery in the New York City borough of Queens devoted to emerging artists, joined Spaces in 2014 specifically to help it find a new home that would grow its potential.

Reason to relocate

"I really moved here to do this," she said of leading Spaces through a transition to its new home. "It has a pretty huge resonance to me."

As she spoke, Vassallo sat at the head of a long worktable amid a brick-lined meeting room in the front of the Van Rooy Building, just off Detroit Avenue.

She called the room, which will be used for meetings and classes including monthly art therapy studios for residents of the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority's nearby Lakeview Terrace Apartments, the "Mistake Lab."

The quirky name is meant to encourage experimentation without fear of failure - something very much in the spirit of Spaces.

Rather than function like a smaller version of the Cleveland Museum of Art or the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, Spaces focuses on experimental and non-commercial work by emerging and midcareer artists from across the country and around the world.

Since 1978, Spaces has exhibited work by more than 9,000 artists, according to a description on the website of Cuyahoga Arts and Culture, the county art-funding agency.

Staying power

And while Spaces has never attracted a huge audience, it has garnered steady support from donors and foundations, enabling it to survive longer than many other nonprofit, artist-run galleries founded in the 1960s and '70s that have since folded.

Originally launched at 1375 Euclid Ave. in the One Playhouse Square Building, Spaces moved in 1984 to the Bradley Building in the Warehouse District, and then moved again in 1990 to its immediate past home, a three-story brick loft building at 2220 Superior Viaduct.

A $126,000 grant from the New York-based Andy Warhol Foundation helped Spaces close a $400,000 deal to buy the Superior Viaduct building, and for a time, Spaces augmented its budget with income from renting the upper floors in the building.

But construction of the multistory Stonebridge apartments on the south side of Superior Viaduct in 2007 reduced the gallery's visibility and the availability of street parking and eroded its attachment to its building.

Spaces sold the building in 2013 but remained in place while leasing from the new owner as it sought a new home.

1 / 20 Photo Captions ( follow the link)
Martha Loughridge, Development Director of Spaces, walks through Gallery 2 of their brand new art gallery space on the first floor of the old Van Rooy Coffee Building in the Hingetown area of Ohio City. (Lisa DeJong/The Plain Dealer)

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