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The Canton Laundry “pop-ups”

ARCH open houses offer a creative way to imagine a new life for an old Broadway storefront

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2014-07-31


It’s been about 15 years, maybe longer, since the Canton Laundry storefront on Broadway between Washington and Jefferson was occupied by the business that bears its name on the sign. And before it was Canton Laundry, it was… well, another laundry. “It hasn’t been anything but a laundry since the 30s or 40s,” says Michael Galbraith, Executive Director of ARCH. “It’s been starching shirts for a good half-century.”

But over this past summer, the building has seen a lot more activity since its shirt-starching days. ARCH — Fort Wayne’s non-profit organization that advocates for the protection and preservation of historically and culturally significant historic places in Allen County and northeast Indiana — bought the property and put it up for sale a little over a year ago. The organization has been searching for a buyer, and has come up with a creative way of showcasing the space — one off “pop-up” art galleries every couple weeks or so that serve as a real estate open house.

“This is a fantastic way of getting a lot of different creative people into these buildings,” says Galbraith. “What we really want to do is sell those buildings, and the more people who come see that space, the better chance we have. What we’re trying to do is get people to dream a little bit about what this could be.”

The idea evolved from a handful of events last May to mark preservation month. For a fund-raiser, ARCH started an “I wish this was…” campaign for the site. The organization also held its annual meeting in the building, and displayed some preservation photos. They decided to use the other side of the building as well, partnering with Dan Swartz of Wunderkammer (and FWR). There were a few one-off shows and special events, advertised mostly through social media and word of mouth.

But what was intended as a series of events to mark preservation month seemed to take on a life of its own. “From there it kind of blew up,” says Lori Graf, Program Specialist at ARCH. “Artists started calling and mailing, asking if they could use the space.”

“We don’t charge for it,” Graf adds. “It’s a way for artists to show their work in a unique space, and a way for ARCH to show off the building.”

Just to be clear, the pop-up art galleries are one-off events, open houses designed to showcase the property. There is no real set schedule; they happen every couple of weeks, just one night for a few hours. Beyond the open houses, there is nothing going on in that building. In fact, not much can go on in it, as it is. “There’s been a lot of renovation,” Graf says. “We’ve stabilized the property. But it’s still going to take a lot of work to make that space ‘livable’.”

“It’s going to take somebody with a lot of passion and a little bit of financial sense,” Galbraith adds.

But the potential is there, and what better way to show it than to hold an open house where the space is actually being used in an interesting and creative way.

The events are advertised via social media and word of mouth. Sometimes, there’s a food truck. But Bill DeSalvo, who has curated a few of the events, says they’re pretty informal and tend to come together very quickly. “Putting the show on, it’s basically contacting the artists, getting them interested, and getting them to commit,” DeSalvo says. “Basically, I’m just the project manager.”

Though “prep time” is relatively short, DeSalvo says that’s not to suggest that the shows are slap-dash or sloppy. He points to a pair of shows happening August 1st with Austin White and Augusta Pryor in 1016 Broadway; and photographer Stephen Perfect and DeSalvo himself next door in 1014. It’s just a couple days before show time when we speak, and Perfect and DeSalvo have just decided on exactly what they’ll be doing. “It’s not ‘seat-of-the-pants,’ because ‘the kids’ (White and Pryor) have really thought about this, the artists have done a great job setting things up,” he says. “But it’s spontaneous. There’s not a lot of planning. It’s very, very basic. The lighting is all done on a shoe-string budget, but it looks really good.”

And what about finding a buyer for the space? Galbraith says there has been some interest. “Actually, if we could have sold it as a bar or a brew pub, we would have sold it half-a-dozen times already,” he laughs.

Well, why not? “Because it’s so close to the church, it can’t be a place that serves alcohol. It can’t be a bar,” he explains. “The church wouldn’t have a problem with it, but the alcoholic beverage commission in Indianapolis says that you can’t be within 200 feet of a school or a church.”

But if a bar is out, there are plenty of other options. “Like I said, what we’re trying to do is get people to dream a little bit about what this could be,” says Galbraith. “Many of the people who come to these open house events are from a generation that is sort of looking for that urban experience, and we would love to see Broadway turn into that.”

The open houses probably will end in September. As to how many more events there will be between then and now… As stated above, planning and scheduling for these open houses is pretty informal. As of right now, there’s an event happening August 8 from 8 – 11 PM; DeSalvo has a show happening August 22 from 6 – 10 PM; and then there’s a show happening September 6 and 7 during the West Central Garden Tour, with artists to be announced.

Check ARCH’s Facebook page and Twitter for updates on the open houses and more information on the property. Link to twitter and facebook can be found at ARCH’s web site, archfw.com.

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