SPACES, on the edge of another Renaissance


The first time I visited SPACES was in 2007.  It was a memorable night for two things: seeing the brilliant work of my high school classmate, Libby Black, and trying to hide the giant sweat stains that had formed in my armpits.  The heat was unbearable.  What art gallery of this size does not have air conditioning? And yet the long, railroad-style room was filled to capacity with a cheerfully bustling, sweaty crowd.  Clearly, this was a special place; but as a newcomer to the city, I had no idea how very special.


SPACES has shown the work of over 9,000 artists in its storied history, and just shy of their fortieth anniversary, it is the oldest continuously-running experimental art ‘space’ in Cleveland   That kind of longevity would have been impressive, even without the building’s well-documented shortcomings. Besides its lack of air conditioning, or an elevator, or—thanks to some tall residential buildings—very much visibility, the old building is just far-enough off the beaten path that it doesn’t feel like part of Ohio City. A highway exit, and a heavily trafficked bridge, and the crest of a hill all stand in the way. And on top of all that, the only available parking is on the street. .


So SPACES Board of Directors hac been actively looking for a new location since selling the Viaduct Building in 2013. After one deal fell through in 2014, the organization announced earlier in the Spring that it is ready to begin yet another chapter by moving to a new location on the first floor of the historic Van Rooy Building at 2900 Detroit Avenue, adjacent to the Cleveland Music School Settlement’s west side performing venue, The Bop Stop. It’s also just a stone’s throw from Transformer Station and the nonprofit ICA Art Conservation. The impressive brick Van Rooy Building stands only a half-mile from SPACES present location, but in many ways it’s a world away.


Built in 1895, the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. First a steel range factory, then home to a manufacturer of early automobile pistons, it is best known for its longest tenants, the Van Rooy Coffee Company. Last summer it was purchased by Fred and Laura Bidwell, the Cleveland-based art collectors who co-founded the nearby Transformer Station, and who have been instrumental in other Hingetown projects (such as the Streibinger Block of retail spaces just across the street). Their plans for the Van Rooy Building–announced last summer–involve renovating the top story as their home, and leasing out the lower floors, possibly to a cultural institution. SPACES was the long-rumored and natural choice.


The Bidwells are facilitating the move with a $150,000 donation, and by financing SPACES mortgage at a below-market rate. That and a $500,000 gift from the George Gund Foundation give SPACES a good start on its fundraising goals:  $2,475,000 for acquisition, construction, and related expenses, plus $1,025,000 for cash reserves and an endowment. To date, SPACES reports having raised more than $1,400,000.


As SPACES Executive Director, Christina Vassallo explains, “Even though it’s just five blocks away from our current home, [the new location] feels like a different universe. A ground floor presence on Detroit Avenue, in the middle of such a dynamic and compact neighborhood, will have a major impact on our visibility.”


On a recent walk through the majestically raw space, Vassallo explained that SPACES biggest goal for the new space is to be “a more welcoming venue for the appreciation of experimental art, for all kinds of people, and our new home will have a dedicated space for this.”


Architect John Williams (whose firm Process