Tonight, the neighborhood’s burgeoning nightlife and culture district adds an art venue, and the next night bids farewell to Butler Street stalwart Fe Gallery.
The new place, The Inn, is the latest incarnation of an art venue/project that began life a few years back in Shadyside as The College Inn Project. It’s now taken over the second floor of the former tire plant at 5601 Butler St.
The space (pictured below), focuses on local artists and is run by artists/curators Stephen Tuomala and Sarah Humphrey. (The latter an occasional CP contributor.)
Then, on Friday, after a decade on the block, Fe holds one last event before closing its doors. Jill Larson launched the storefront gallery in August 2001, back when art galleries and boutiques were rather more rare on Butler than now.
Two years ago, with Fe ensconced as one of the city’s better small galleries, Larson left to pursue her own curatorial and art practices. But while the gallery was not expensive to run, board president Sara Dixon says it became harder and harder to secure grant money and other donations. “A lot of good organizations and not enough money to go around,” Dixon said on Tuesday.
The board had been discussing closing the space since January, she said. Things only got harder when Jared Boyer, Larson’s longtime assistant who then ran the gallery, was hospitalized with an illness in May.
“The goal has always been 10 years for us,” says Dixon. “We’ve made it 10 years and it’s a good number to close on.”
The final art exhibit at Fe was Alabaster Blast, a fiber-art show curated, coincidentally, by none other than Larson. The space subsequently hosted a small theatrical production. Larson didn’t know at the time that hers was the final show at the venue she had launched and then spent eight years of her life running.
“I put a lot of everything into that space, and I really hoped I’d be able to take my grandchildren there,” she said in a phone interview yesterday. Both of her sons largely grew up in that space, including the younger boy, now 11, for whom the gallery’s storage closet was his nursery.
“What was always unique about Fe was it was a gallery for local artists, but it welcomed artists from out of town,” putting the Pittsburgh work in a larger context, said Larson.
Most of the shows were group shows. Asked to recall some favorites, Larson cites Fear: Real or Imagined, for which she hung 100 nooses in the gallery and had a collaborator install a suspended floor that swayed when visitors walked on it. She also recalled Boys Will Be Boys: “It pushed a lot of stereotypes.”
Then there was the big Pittsburgh 250 show, for the city’s anniversary, which drew an incredible 1,000 visitor on its first night. When he saw the line of visitors snaking around the corner, her older son said, “Mom, you’ve made it!”
Dixon said it’s possible the Fe brand will remain, perhaps via pop-up events.
The physical Fe, at 4102 Butler St., closes Friday night with a free reception from 7-11 p.m. titled (Fe)nale, featuring music by DJ Zannaz.