Seattle artists are opening galleries in their homes and garages, even creating an art gallery that’s also an Airbnb — part of a growing trend of artists and art lovers finding innovative ways to support art in a city with skyrocketing rents and stagnant art sales.
In the quiet Seattle neighborhood of Magnolia, behind a plain garage door, lies a cutting-edge art gallery. On most Saturdays, homeowners-turned-curators Jillian Strobel and Anthony Sands roll up the garage door, put their sign on the sidewalk and invite curious neighbors and artgoers to check out the small, smart exhibitions at their Strobel & Sands gallery.
In giving over part of their home to art, Strobel and Sands are the latest Seattleites to join a history of Do-It-Yourself galleries. They’re also among a host of artists and art lovers finding innovative ways to support art in a city with skyrocketing rents and stagnant art sales. Some are opening in-home galleries, others converting garages into exhibition spaces and, in one case, remaking part of a home into a gallery/Airbnb whose rental income helps support artists.
And hosting in-home galleries isn’t just about economics. It’s influencing the artists’ works, creating opportunities to be more experimental, spurring conversations and building community.
In-home galleries in Seattle
Check websites for hours (some galleries require appointments) and for current or upcoming exhibitions.
9761 Third Ave. N.W. reallyverysad.com
1222 N.E. Ravenna Blvd. season.cz
Strobel & Sands
Emerson Garage, Emerson Street between 34th Avenue West and 35th Avenue West strobelandsands.com
6312 32nd Ave. N.W., Unit A thevestibule.org
At Strobel & Sands, in addition to curating the garage-turned-gallery, Sands is a furniture maker with a background in art and design; Strobel, who has an MBA in arts management and experience in curating and marketing, works in a local architecture firm.
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After moving to Seattle from Los Angeles in 2016, the couple wanted to organize an art exhibition. Strobel laughingly states, “I wish I could be more conceptual about it, but the fact is we couldn’t afford to do anything else. We were thinking about how to create a show and thought, ‘We could have it in the garage!’ It was an a-ha moment.”
Sands adds that these kinds of alternative venues serve a purpose in such an expensive city. “There are so many artists out there and not enough gallery space.”
SAD Gallery, SEASON
In the Greenwood neighborhood, artist Josh Poehlein also converted his garage into a gallery. Poehlein had been intrigued by the DIY gallery scene in Chicago, where he received an MFA in photography from Columbia College.
So when he moved to Seattle and found a rental with a rundown garage, he renovated it into SAD Gallery, for which he has organized two-person shows since 2015. “It’s about connecting with the Seattle scene, connecting people I’ve known from the past with new people,” he says.
As an artist, Poehlein says, “It has expanded the way I look at all art. The process of curating makes me look harder at other people’s work — more deeply, more critically.”
Artist and art dealer Robert Yoder — a respected figure in the local and national art scenes — has curated his home-based gallery, SEASON, since 2010. From the modest exterior of his ranch-style home in Ravenna, you might not guess all the activity within.
In addition to championing artists at art fairs across the country and creating his own work, he puts on four exhibitions a year, with intriguing work thoughtfully placed in various rooms.
Yoder says that for many gallerists — from those using traditional spaces, to more alternative venues — “getting people in the door can be a challenge. It’s so easy to see things online and just leave it at that.”
For those showing art in their homes, there can be an additional hurdle: “People can be hesitant to come see art in a stranger’s house,” Yoder said. “But I’ve found that when people make that first step, they often return, and they keep coming back.”
What might be initially perceived as an obstacle ends up as a benefit. “The space really creates intimacy for the artists and the people who come see the shows,” he said. “Everyone always reacts very positively to seeing the work in a domestic situation as opposed to a brightly lit white cube. People can imagine what it might look like if it went home with them. And the atmosphere is conducive to having conversations about the work, about the art scene, about everything.”
Over in Ballard, Kascha and John Snavely are also interested in blurring the line between home life and public life. In May, they converted a live/work unit at the front of their home into an Airbnb and art gallery, aptly named The Vestibule.
The Vestibule uses Airbnb income to support artists in creating and exhibiting new work. And it offers a unique experience for folks to live with art, if only for a night or two. Visiting artists can stay at low rates or for free.
For Kascha, The Vestibule offers “something nontraditional and noncommercial that is supported through capitalism, through the Airbnb and the shared economy. It’s a practical shift but also a conceptual shift toward having an intimate relationship with art.”
The couple met on a field trip to the Museum of Modern Art when both were studying art in college. According to Kascha, who has a doctorate in philosophy, her husband John “took a path away from art toward technology and I took a path away from art toward academia.”
When income from John’s job at Microsoft allowed them to purchase the mixed-use building, Kascha recalls thinking, “We’re going to take this leap and make that our home and drag our kids out of their cozy house with a yard. We decided to put art at the forefront of our lives.”
The Vestibule, she says, is about “a link between the public and the private, a place of transition, and a way of creating a transformation of street life and community life.”
Past in-home galleries
The Vestibule, SEASON, SAD Gallery, and Strobel & Sands continue the DIY ethos of past in-home galleries, many of them located on Capitol Hill, that helped shape Seattle’s art scene.
Curator and artist Sierra Stinson opened the influential Vignettes in her apartment in 2010 in response to the decline of commercial art galleries and lack of noncommercial spaces in which unrepresented artists could exhibit.
Vignettes, which hosted one-night-only exhibitions, “became a cultural petri dish of creatives inside my kitchen talking about what they wished to do, who people should meet,” Stinson said. “It informed my art practice as a curator completely. After the whirlwind of a three-hour exhibition, I would wake up immersed in the art from the night before, knowing exactly who I wished to seek out for a future exhibit.”
Working in that home space created “a more intimate approach to exhibiting; it becomes both site-specific and personal,” she said. “Artists can respond to the architecture, to the objects already residing in the home. They can turn it into their own residency.”
Vignettes, now co-run with Serrah Russell, an artist and self-described “enabler of artists,” is no longer an apartment-gallery, having expanded into other kinds of programming including online-arts criticism and exhibitions in residences across town. In February, Russell and Stinson will partner with Hybrid Architecture to open Found, an experimental performance and exhibition space on Capitol Hill.
After moving from Bellingham in 2014, they mounted some narrow shelves to display their own collection. Stepping back, they realized they could invite artists to respond to those two shelves as “a constraint and motivator to make and exhibit new work,” Rudko said.
Two Shelves is currently on extended hiatus while Bjork and Rudko are busy with their own work.
The Calypte Gallery, which began in 2014 as a one-night-only exhibition in conjunction with a Capitol Hill Art Walk, recently mounted its last show, as owners Andrew Whitver and Kevin Brannaman plan a move to Spokane.
That first show featured esteemed artist Robert Hardgrave, kicking off three years of exhibiting talented artists including Kimberly Trowbridge, Gala and Zack Bent and Jeffry Mitchell.
“It’s important for artists to have opportunities to create work that wouldn’t necessarily fly in a commercial gallery,” Mitchell says. “Calypte was an ultra-modest, really warm space where artists could do experimental things. Or create slight gestures. And that could be enough.”
Other artists echo the need for such opportunities. Emerging artist Ilysia Van Deren, who exhibited at The Vestibule, says, “It challenged me to think about the possibilities within a space that is overtly quite domestic, and to embrace elements of that.”
Emily Counts, an artist who recently showed at Strobel & Sands, points out that these venues can be destinations for people seeking art experiences outside of traditional spaces. Said Counts, “These unexpected galleries in residential neighborhoods feel like hidden and necessary treasures in Seattle.”