Crain's Cleveland Business | Scott Suttell  |  November 17, 2017

Forty under 40 ( Images)

What brings this year's inspiring 40s together? They've all contributed to Northeast Ohio's success - both through their careers and work in the community. This year's honorees touch all corners of the regional economy, and we expect their influence to only grow in the coming years. In many cases, they're just getting started.

Executive director, SPACES Gallery

SPACES Gallery describes itself as a nonprofit that serves as a resource and public forum for artists "who explore and experiment."

Christina Vassallo did a little experimenting herself when, in early 2014, she came to Cleveland from New York to run SPACES and lead it into a new era that includes a new home on the ground floor of the former Van Rooy Coffee building in the hot Hingetown neighborhood on the West Side.

When she took the job, SPACES was in the early stages of looking for the new building to replace its longtime home on Superior Viaduct. Immediately, she took on the tasks of managing the search while planning a $3.5 million capital campaign (SPACES now is most of the way there) and helping to continue adventurous programming at the artist-run gallery.

"I still feel like I'm in my honeymoon phase of living in Cleveland."
"I didn't know Cleveland very well when I came here, but it's been incredibly encouraging to see the support for artists and the willingness to take some risks," said Vassallo, a Tremont resident who holds bachelor's and master's degrees from New York University.

SPACES programmed an exhibition of political art in summer 2016 that coincided with the Republican National Convention, and it's one of several institutions taking part in FRONT International, a modern art triennial that debuts next year. One exhibition organized by SPACES leading up to FRONT is "A Color Removed," a participatory project from artist Michael Rakowitz about the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice.

Vassallo said SPACES' new home is "a purpose-built design that comes from 40 years of working with artists." It has helped to double attendance and raise the institution's profile with artists and the community. It boasts open rooms to display art, but other places for art creation, plus a mounted bike rack on a wall. (That's especially important to Vassallo, an avid cyclist who bikes everywhere, including trips to Kelleys Island.)

Artist Lauren Davies, whose work has been showcased at SPACES, described Vassallo as "super high energy, really smart, someone who gives her all, all the time." Beyond being a skilled administrator, Davies said, Vassallo has a sharp eye and works with artists to "really push us to dig deeper on our projects."

For her part, Vassallo said she wants SPACES to be a place "that puts art in a social context, with the artist as problem solver." - Scott Suttell

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