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Caroline Dahlberg presents a performance art work at Community Room's August "Dog Days" show at 1708 Gallery (photo by Celina Williams).
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During Community Room's August "Dog Days" show at 1708 Gallery, artist Cosima Storz presented an interactive and playful piece titled "Rainbow Party" in which she placed various objects around the space and began by interacting with them, then invited the audience to participate (photo by Celina Williams).
Ride a bike to a dark house on Lombardy Street after making three phone calls just to nail down an address. Step into the grungy basement to a party called “Stranger Danger.” Push through 50 chattering attendees, drop a few dollars in a passed bucket, then enjoy several paintings and drawings duct-taped to the brick walls. Soon, two curators ask for a show of hands for the best art. Hands go up, cheers erupt, and the lucky artist is awarded a gold spray-painted 40-ounce malt liquor bottle.
Welcome to Richmond’s do-it-yourself pop-up art scene.
“I have a lot of fun organizing shows,” says Virginia Commonwealth University sculpture program graduate Rachel Ludwig. While in college, she and fellow artist and VCU graduate Grace Huddleston were veterans of DIY house shows. They formed Community Room, which, with a sister association, Elbow Room, are floating collectives of private visual and performing art spaces devoted to stripping away the pretensions sometimes attached to art shows and to showcasing new artists and eclectic, often outrageous, talent.
Community Room has had three shows, each featuring a variety of displays, from visual art to straight-up performance art, including interactive-media artists using their bodies and props to create narratives.
Ludwig says that students are more generally accepted into traditional Richmond gallery shows, so she and Huddleston created Community Room for graduates like themselves. She has performed at two shows with Gemstone, her solo experimental ambient-pop-noise music project.
Elbow Room, a more sociopolitical collective founded in 2013 by R.M. Livingston, also seeks diverse talent and unusual venues, such as private homes, gallery basements, even thrift stores. Over a vegan burger in Grace Street’s Ipanema Café with fellow members Drew Necci and Dustin Timberlake, Livingston says that they got frustrated with seeing the same demographic (“straight white dudes”) represented at shows and performances. In response, she and some close friends started Elbow Room (originally called “Grlz Night”) to give voice to under-represented artists and creators who had trouble getting exposure elsewhere.
Elbow Room started out publishing a zine under the same name; it has grown from 12 pages to 56, available at Circle Thrift on Broad Street or by request through Facebook or email. “The zine is the biggest thing we do, but far from the only thing,” says Necci, herself a transitioning woman.
“Elbow Room is about visual art, but if we are doing a show and someone wanted to do performance art, that would be fine.”
The three discussed their “crazy successful” North Side house event in January, “Art in the Attic.” “We had five bands play in the basement,” says Livingston, “and there were paintings, photography, embroidery and zines in the attic.” More than 100 guests showed up.
An October show at Circle Thrift included a cyanotype quilt, a photograph, drawings, screen prints, a tapestry and zines. “The opening was slow, but the weather was terrible,” she says.
Both the creators of Community Room and Elbow Room insist that their initiatives are not a poke in the eye to Richmond’s established art scene, nor are they intruding on the classic gallery environments. Their mission is to create spaces for local artists who share their diverse visions. It’s about exposure, says Livingston, not selling.
“With a house show, we can honestly and truly say that anyone who wants to put in work — that is in line with our mission — we will do that,” says Necci.
“It’s important for me to keep Community Room as eclectic as possible,” says Ludwig, “If someone says, ‘I make experimental music and it sounds cool to me,’ I say ‘OK, let’s have that,’ because to me it is really important to have music and art together.”
The private house shows are small by design, accessed through a personal connection or through social media communication. “You want people, but not too many people, or the cops [might] come,” says Ludwig. Community Room and Elbow Room are both looking to grow, while remaining true to their vision. “We spend time together because we are not just a group of people united to do a thing,” says Necci, “but a group of people united to be there for each other.”
Elbow Room: Fall zine release at Studio Two Three, 7 p.m. Dec. 5
Community Room: Live art performances at Gallery 5, 7 to 10 p.m. Dec. 10