by Erin Keever
In Co-Lab’s fundraising video on crowdfunding site Indiegogo, the theme song from The Jeffersons sitcom plays. This campaign, which raised approximately $21,000 along with additional public and private contributions, is helping the non-profit art space realize its dream of “Movin’ On Up.”
Having kept up a full-throttle exhibition and project schedule for seven years at their 613 Allen Street location, Co-Lab is literally and figuratively repositioning itself in a new space, actually two warehouses and a courtyard, just a few blocks away at 300 Allen. The new gallery will be 1,000 square feet and is currently under construction. Although it won’t feature Col-Lab’s trademark lightning-fast turnover—having rotated exhibitions weekly and biweekly in the past—Co-Lab will still maintain an ambitious schedule of monthly exhibition openings. Co-Lab Executive Director and Curator, Sean Gaulager, stresses that in terms of events and projects, they will continue to keep a speedy pace. “I think any time you can give a greater number of opportunities to artists, it benefits the artists and your audiences. This model is what brought people to the original space so frequently; offerings were so temporal you had to be at the event to catch them. ”
Unfortunately there have been some glitches. Co- Lab’s first exhibition, REDNECKOGNIZE featuring work by the Austin-based HIXX Collective, was supposed to open April 4, but “due to unforeseen delays in city permitting and contractor timelines” has been postponed until further notice. According to a recent press release, it will feature images, objects and video seeking to “disrupt class-based values and deconstruct place-based essentialism, blurring the traditional structures of urban cosmopolitan and rural culture by forcing the two into an uneasy dialogue.”
The building adjacent to the gallery will be used for studios and will feature 1,850 square feet of rentable space, not including hallways, bathrooms and common space, as soon as it is finished out. Aware of the need for affordable studio space in increasingly expensive but art-heavy East Austin, Co-Lab aims to fill a niche by offering, as Gaulager puts it, “middle market studio spaces, somewhere between the highly designed and the un-air-conditioned ones available in town.” While studio pricing “has not been finalized,” Director of Communication and Development, Austin Nelsen, says they have “enough interest from potential renters to fill the space twice over” and the list continues to grow.
Equally important to the affordability of such spaces is the creative energy of the organization and its onsite artists. Gaulager looks forward to a dynamic group of emerging artists of all ages, styles and media and extols the benefits of working in close proximity to other artists. When these spaces are filled, Co-Lab hopes to host open studios on first Saturdays. They also plan to expand public access by establishing regular gallery hours and potentially opening a secondary project gallery on site, where Gaulager says they “can continue providing exhibition space to young artists trying out ideas, experimenting and taking risks.” They say to expect a more robust public programming schedule that includes partnerships with other organizations and other disciplines including film screenings, literary readings, performances and other community events.
If able to keep momentum going, some day they may even consider residencies. But for now Gaulager seems pleased, but eager to make more progress. He reflects, “Artists and community members seem very excited and anxious to experience the new digs, and we can’t wait to resume our programming. It’s a very exciting time for us. There are so many good things happening in Austin right now, and we feel honored by the opportunity to expand and continue developing our organization in this city.”
Co-Lab’s nimble model of fast-turnover exhibitions peppered with Fluxus-style events and happenings is an important contributor to the Austin art scene. Perhaps just as valuable is providing affordable studio space and a larger collaborative environment in a city known for few property options and escalating rents. Without these creative spaces, the artistic climate suffers, and the city loses cultural clout it continually works to establish.