A former NAPA Auto Parts warehouse Downtown is completing its transformation from large, empty warehouse to a maze of studios and galleries.
Blockfort represents the third iteration of an artist collaborative Co-Owner and Founder Adam Brouillette and his wife, Meghan have been a part of. Each venture has added years of experience and more formality along the way.
The first step was Junctionview Studios, a collection of artists running events together without much formal structure. Next, Tacocat created more structure and a true cooperative, with the group voting on every decision. The collective had been humming along for about three years when they had to vacate their space to make way for an expanding Grandview Yard.
While the first two kept Brouillette in Grandview for 15 years, Blockfort brings the creative energy Downtown. As he became more involved in other pursuits like Indepednents’ Day, Brouillette was interacting more with city officials. But when it came election day, he couldn’t vote for the very people he was working with. Always striving to be an advocate for arts in Columbus inside and outside of the city, he wanted to be able to say he lived and worked in Columbus.
The couple lives in an apartment attached to the space. It offers the urbanite lifestyle that the duo were looking for. It also puts them under the roof of a landlord, the Day Companies, that’s not just trying to pump as much money as possible out of the building.
“It should instead be used for how do you build a feeling or a culture around what you’re doing – that’s why we wanted to be Downtown,” Brouillette says.
Aside from a new neighborhood, Blockfort will have another major differentiator from previous collectives. It will be run as a business. Brouillette says that with he and his wife at the helm, the group doesn’t have to waste time on conversations like whose turn it is to clean the bathroom, and can keep the focus on creativity.
Blockfort’s beginnings as an empty warehouse provided the blank canvas to design a more functional space that previous iterations.
“Let’s sit down and design, what would an ideal space for 20 artists look like?” Brouillette says of their early plans.
Blockfort puts its best foot forward with a gallery space with rotating monthly exhibits at the entrance.
“Only the first show will be artists that are in here, and that’s just an introduction to people working here,” Brouillette says. “After that, it’s a variety of solo shows, group shows, theme shows and partnership shows.”
The programming for the gallery, that’s already scheduled through March of next year, represents a sort of middle-ground space.
“Our goal is to take people in Columbus that have shown in warehouses and stuff, that haven’t quite moved on to, like, having a gallery representation or started showing in museums, and give them that middle step,” Brouillette says.
(Tune into this episode of The Confluence Cast (iTunes) for more on Blockfort)
A garage area in the rear of the building will provide another gallery space. This one will cater to more experimental forms of art – installations, video projections, sound design, pop-up shops, “We may use it as a tiny performance venue, we may use it as a mini movie theater,” Brouillette says.
Past the gallery is a maze of artist studios. Twenty-two creatives inhabit Blockfort’s 16 studios, with each door decorated to give a hint at the work created inside. Nine of the 11 members of Tacocat made the move, with the Blockfort rounding out its roster with a group of other artists who value collaboration. Brouillette says it was one of the first questions they asked prospective tenants – what could you offer in terms of collaboration, and in turn, what things do you need? The resulting mix covers design, to soap making, to painting, to screen printing and beyond.
“You can put a weird mix of people into a building and have them all benefit from each other,” Brouillette says.
Blockfort’s final piece is a basement that was originally slated for coworking. Brouillette realized they didn’t want to run a traditional coworking space, and instead will look for a few complimentary businesses to inhabit the space.
Blockfort shows off its transformation with a grand opening this Saturday, February 25 from 12 p.m. – 7 p.m. at 162 N. Sixth St.
“Our hope is that people can come see what we’ve been working on, see the spaces, kind of get an idea for what the structure is, meet the different artists,” Brouillette says.
For more information, visit blockfortcolumbus.com.