HeadQuarters for affordable art: Duo transforms Northampton garage into DIY gallery

Last modified: Thursday, May 22, 2014

From the outside, 123 Hawley St. in Northampton looks much like any rental garage. A curved driveway leads to a gray garage door on the basement level of the building that also houses a tuxedo shop, a dog groomer, a hair salon, and several business offices.

But, raise that door, and, inside, the environment changes dramatically: Tucked inside that unassuming edifice, is an art gallery that currently boasts hundreds of oversized prints of artwork created by more than 80 artists.

Jenna Weingarten and Emma Kohlmann organized the gallery, called HeadQuarters, in 2012 as a noncommercial do-it-yourself art space that offers affordable art and a place to display it, for free. They say the aim is to open up opportunities for up-and-coming artists who want to display art in a town with no other noncommercial galleries.

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“It’s an environment and space that encourages production,” Weingarten said.

HeadQuarters’ growth since its opening, organizers say, has transformed it from an underground arts space for friends to a place for the community where artists can display and produce art. And with that growth has come increased expenses, so Weingarten and Kohlmann are looking for funders.

From the start

After graduating in 2011 from Hampshire College in Amherst, Weingarten and Kohlman, who have a diverse background in the arts, ranging from poetry, painting, sculpting, performance and sketch art, were bemoaning the fact that they no longer had access to the free spaces provided on campus. Soon after, they spied an ad for the Hawley Street location on Craig’s List and decided to rent the space, although they weren’t certain just how they would use it.

Their goal at first was just to experiment with the space, said Esther White, now a director at HeadQuarters: “Not worry about the structure and just start making projects, and then allow the structure to happen.”

Soon after, HeadQuarters hosted its first community event, an exhibit that featured photography by six artists.

Since then, exhibits have been presented by local artists and their families, professors from local colleges, and college and high school students. For example, North Star, an individual-based learning program for high school-aged students in Hadley, will host a student photography show at HeadQuarters on May 17, organized by Mauricio Abascal, who teaches a photography class at North Star.

Providing such opportunities is central to HeadQuarter’s mission, White says. “You have to already have a lot of official experience to do a show at a regular nonprofit art space.”

Kohlmann, the co-founder, is also a regular contributing artist at HeadQuarters and curated the latest exhibit at HeadQuarters, “Enlargement Show.”

In the windowless space, enlarged black-and-white posters are illuminated by track lighting, hung from the 8-foot ceiling. From top to bottom, the prints, as large as 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide, wallpaper nearly every surface of the 350 square-foot space.

A narrow cardboard path, about 3 feet wide, is secured in place with gray duct tape and juts into the room, forming a peninsula.

As viewers step onto the walkway, they become immersed in the artwork — abstract sketches, watercolors, photography, comic book art, portraiture, pop-culture images, and more — that drips off the ceiling and floors and crawls toward the viewers’ feet.

Kohlman says the exhibit — and its artists — benefits from the flexibility inherent in HeadQuarters’ mission.

“No other space will let me fill an entire space from floor to ceiling,” Kohlmann says in a fundraiser video.

Each of the pieces in the show was enlarged using a Panasonic photocopier and printer purchased for HeadQuarters last summer. White, a printmaker at Zea Mays in Florence, is the press director. HeadQuarters has begun to produce zines featuring artwork by local, and nonlocal artists. “Book art can travel, we send zines to people all over the country,” White said. “People that don’t live in Northampton can participate in anthologies.”

The zines, Weingarten says, are publications made and distributed by their creators for the sake of the art and not for profit. And because the price of the zines matches the cost of the materials used to create them, White adds, their publication supports the organization’s goals of creating accessible, low-cost art.

Zines are inexpensive, White says, and enable a stress-free format for artists to submit work without having to worry about fees and publishers.

“If you’re not a working artist it gives you the motivation to make something and share it with people,” White said.

Looking to the future

Since HeadQuarters opened, it has hosted group shows, pop-up stores, mixed-media installations, experimental poetry readings, photography and collage exhibits, print trades, zine releases, noise shows, shows for kids and experimental art.

Recently, Weingarten says, there have been so many requests for use of the space that she’s had to turn some away — a first since HeadQuarters’ creation.

With the increase in events, costs to run the space have also shot up. Weingarten has been paying the monthly $350 rent from her own pocket but says she can no longer sustain that, so has begun to look for outside funding sources.

“It’s hard feeling liable for a space, and obviously I wouldn’t have been able to do anything without a huge amount of help from my friends,” Weingarten said. But, at the end of the day, she added, “I was losing money.”

Earlier this year, HeadQuarters launched a fundraising campaign on the website Kickstarter, and raised $3,570 from 56 backers, which, organizers say, has bought some time.

“If we hadn’t met our goal with the Kickstarter, we probably would have stopped,” White said.

Despite the struggles, Weingarten says she is committed to HeadQuarters and its concept, and hopes further funding can be secured.

“It’s good to be in Northampton, the apex of arts culture, in order to establish yourself as a DIY space in a town that doesn’t really have them.”

Upcoming shows at HeadQuarters include “Planet Party,’ a dance show scheduled for March 29, and a two-person art show on April 9. To schedule an event at HeadQuarters, visit their Tumblr at http://0headquarters0.tumblr.com/. To inquire about submitting art and planning shows, send an email to hheadqquarters@gmail.com.


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