One thing Martin-Castillo's trying to do is work with more local non-profit organizations at the art openings.

"Selfishly speaking, when you tie arts events in with charities, the organizations and their supporters come to the events, and they mingle and talk about other opportunities," Martin-Castillo says. "The nonprofits can hold their board meetings here. I'd like to get it to where I can subsidize the mortgage to a degree that I'm not looking to the gallery to sustain the whole building. Because right now, it can't."

The artists in the new galleries on Marshall Way aren't making tons of money, either, but they're selling enough art to pay their rent and make a marginal profit. And if the pop-up galleries aren't bringing massive crowds to Old Town Scottsdale yet, they are bringing new art and creating a community where there once were only a handful of galleries and numerous empty storefronts.

When empty storefronts are epidemic, artists have a history of revitalizing areas.

"The history of the art world has always been about revitalizing places no one wants to go," says John Spiak, a curator at the Arizona State University Art Museum in Tempe. "Times Square was a crime-ridden area once, and then galleries helped changed the face of it. When property values went up, the galleries moved to SoHo. SoHo became prominent, then the arts moved to Chelsea, then to Long Island."

Spiak notes the same thing happened in L.A., where the galleries moved from Pasadena to downtown L.A. to Santa Monica, and now Culver City. "There was nothing in Culver City before," Spiak says. "Galleries have consistently raised property values."

So there's logic in the idea of pop-up galleries. "Move in somewhere that will bring activity, and the rest of the surrounding businesses will do better," Spiak says.

The pop-up gallery trend started in Los Angeles in the 1990s, but really took off in London last summer, when painter Simon Tarrant, who had never shown at a gallery, persuaded the owners of a vacant building on affluent Fulham Road in Chelsea to let him use the space temporarily.

The landlords, Sloane Stanley Real Estate, were having trouble finding a tenant that could pay more than $243,000 in annual rent, so the building stood vacant for more than a year. Tarrant moved in on a six-month lease — with the agreement he'd pay the landlord a small percentage of whatever art he sold — and the space became the Queen's Elm Artists collective.

In the months that followed, pop-up galleries sprouted in numerous empty retail spaces throughout London, and the British government announced a $5 million fund to help local governments in economically challenged areas transform empty storefronts into art studios and showrooms.

Some of these galleries are open for a few months, others for a few weeks. But their presence, however temporary, brings new visitors (and potential renters) to areas that need more commerce and culture. Recessions don't last forever, and neither will pop-up galleries, but that's part of what makes them exciting.

By October of last year, a wave of pop-up galleries had opened in New York City. Barren retail spaces like the old Tower Records store in Manhattan, a 2,500-square foot retail space at the Port Authority terminal, and many storefronts along the Flatbush Avenue Extension in Brooklyn became art galleries.

The success of London and New York's pop-up galleries inspired other cities, like Chicago, where the Chicago Loop Alliance launched a program called Pop-Up Art Loop last November. Under the initiative, owners of empty spaces allow artists to move in on short-term leases, often with a provision that they can kick them out with 10 days' notice. The "for rent" signs remain in the windows, and artists can be usurped by a full-paying tenant at any time. In the meantime, formerly unused spaces house places like the Wabash Gallery and the Chicago Photography Collective.

On the West Coast, pop-up galleries have already seen success in Southern California. During the state's recession in the early '90s, artists did something similar to pop-up galleries. "They found low-rent areas, did projects out of their own homes, and helped to put L.A. on a more major arts map," Spiak says, mentioning spaces like Bliss in Pasadena, POST in downtown L.A., the Dollhouse Gallery in West Los Angeles, and Lemon Sky in Hollywood.

Now, some Southern California cities, particularly Long Beach, are once again looking to give the arts a break. In the last week of May, the city council gave initial approval to several arts initiatives, including possibly eliminating business taxes for artists' live/work spaces.

There is a downside: These spaces are temporary. That means that Baron Gordon, Emmett Potter, Brian Drake, and the other Scottsdale pop-up gallery artists — who have spent months establishing themselves on the art walk and maintaining the spaces — could have to move out quickly. Storefronts aren't very attractive when they're gaping rooms, but now that galleries are there bringing traffic, those spaces could be more enticing to business owners with deeper pockets.

But the proprietors of the pop-up galleries on Marshall Way are talking about having permanent spaces there. That would require them to make enough money to be competitive renters when the economy picks back up — and Gordon and Potter say that's not entirely impossible. They've both sold more art pieces on Marshall Way in two months than they did in a year in downtown Phoenix.

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5 comments
Jason
Jason

Great article! keep up the great work!

Randy
Randy

Very well done. I'd like to see more of this type of in-depth reporting on the arts in the valley. a good news story with wide appeal that does justice to the art it covers, too. good job. more, please.

Pete
Pete

Kudos on this excellent article! Proof positive that art/culture can be reported as NEWS without having to marginalize creative-types' work & efforts via "What Are You Wearing/Eating?"-type puff pieces that barely mention the art itself.

This story is the real deal. Thanks!

 
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