Survival Kit Gallery: A new home for alternative art

Survival Kit Gallery
A new home for alternative art

Have you heard the one about four talented artists working harmoniously in an elegant space of their own design? Aw, come on. It’s a good one!

Survival Kit, a gallery that opened in the 78th Street Building, has a history that forms the perfect narrative to represent Cleveland as a city that can re-define itself as a vibrant and creative center. Four young artists, each with unique talents and backgrounds, had traveled and explored scenes all over the world and came to the conclusion that they could best realize their vision in Cleveland. Artist Suzanne Cofer summed it up by saying, “This doesn’t happen in other cities.” For one thing, larger cities with bigger markets for art allow for complacency; you can blend into a scene. In a city like Cleveland, you create it.

Suzanne said that the four co-creators of the gallery (Cofer, who is a photographer, visual artist/musician Alex Tapié, and musicians Brian Straw and Dan Price) naturally fell into their shared roles for managing their gallery. They are enthusiastic about building their reputation as a business and enjoy the connections within Cleveland’s artist community; the fluid dynamic of musicians and visual artists that is the spirit of their own collective.

For Survival Kit, creating their space has also been a literal journey, from squalor to comfortable refinement. When they first viewed the space, it was a mess of old, dilapidated tile, carpet and general decay. They immediately saw the potential inherent in the wide open space. They did pretty much all of the work themselves, including wiring for the lighting scheme, pulling out old materials and construction. They were resourceful from the start, using found materials, salvaging and re-using as much as possible for the construction and design of their space. The expansiveness of the floor plan has been left mostly intact. A partial wall with a movable segment separates the gallery/musician’s studio from the workspace, allowing for ultimate flexibility in defining the space. The result for the artists is that their “creative voices harmonize” and yet they can “nest” into a more personal process when necessary. They are still a work-in-progress, as they finish building a room that is a recording studio and have plans to convert one into a dark room.

Another natural asset to the space they found is its location on the third floor of the West 78th Street Galleries. It’s embedded in a huge community of creative studios and exhibition and performance spaces. To put it into perspective, Cofer said, “It’s two city blocks in one building!” The whole collection of spaces hosts open houses on the third Friday of every month, which provides a fabulous experience of enjoying art without having to leave the building. It’s an inspiring place to work and has a unique assembly of high end, high price galleries and start-up, DIY operations. Collectively, it forms a solid, influential force of creativity, bridging the well-developed Gordon Square neighborhood and some of the still-abandoned margins of the Shoreway area.

The first show of Survival Kit Gallery is “ninety-four,” a collection of paintings by Tapié and photographs by Cofer. While they work in different mediums, they share a finishing technique, called the encaustic process, which is essentially dipping the surface of the piece in wax. It adds a final layer that is somewhat unpredictable, at times obscuring fine details and at others enhancing color and detail. This effect helps the process of storytelling, which Cofer said is pervasive in all her photography. She works using analog film much of the time, and her pieces often work together to enhance the narratives that thread through her subjects.

The “ninety-four” show is closing, and of course, it’s going out in style. On Fri 2/18, visitors can view the collection for the last time and hear the music of Survival Kit’s Brian Straw, Uno Lady and Little Bighorn. Uno Lady is the name under which Christa Ebert performs as a one-woman soundscape creation. She uses live voice manipulation to layer her vocals in real-time music creation, an experimental and independent style that is well-suited to Survival Kit’s ethos. Little Bighorn is a conglomeration formed from a group of musicians who are familiar with the gallery artists and have each been involved in local favorites such as Up Ensemble, Coffinberry, Prisoners and Viva Caramel. When they come together this Friday as Little Bighorn, they’ll play a kind of laid-back, mostly acoustic set of country folk played with upright bass, mandolin, accordion, lap-steel guitar as well as drums and guitar. Taken as a whole, this evening is a great opportunity to be immersed in the energetic, creative story of four artists, their gallery, a bunch of their friends /musicians/colleagues, all set in a building in one great city.

Survival Kit Gallery is located at 1305 W 80th Ste 3C in Cleveland’s Gordon Square Arts District. Roam the gallery and the rest of 78th Street Studios on the third Fri of every month. Learn more:

Emmie Hutchison has a Bachelor’s degree from Miami University’s Western College Program.  She loves her job as Assistant Coordinator of the City of Lakewood’s Help to Others Program.  Most of all, she loves raising her four kids.  She also likes to read, socialize and take in all the cool things Cleveland has to offer.

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One Response to “Survival Kit Gallery: A new home for alternative art”

  1. Stephen

    What time is Uno Lady and the others going to be playing?

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