The people at Redux Contemporary Art Center were becoming a little frantic. They knew they needed to leave their existing space on St. Philip Street and find some property more accommodating and financially sustainable.
They started looking around about five years back. Staff and board members queried everyone they knew. They would consider a place only to learn that, for one reason or another, it was untenable.
The more they searched, the more concerned they became. Real estate on the Charleston peninsula is expensive. And time was running out. How would they manage this?
Recently, they considered moving into old Albemarle Elementary School in Avondale, now owned by John Hagerty, who wants to make it into an arts hub. It’s a good space, ready-made for organizations that need studios, classrooms and workshops.
Then a sort of miracle happened.
Last year, Redux Executive Director Stacy Huggins was chatting with Catherine Zommer, who runs Enough Pie, a nonprofit that works on inclusive community projects on the upper part of the peninsula, especially along the upper Meeting Street/Morrison Drive corridor. Huggins told Zommer about an arrangement that fell through. Zommer responded, “I’ll keep an ear open for you.”
“People always say that!” Huggins insisted, recalling that encounter. “I’ve learned to be skeptical but also willing to look at anything.”
It wasn’t long before Zommer called.
“Ham Morrison has a space you should look at,” she told Huggins.
So she went to look at it. And now the deal is done. The tentative move-in date is Jan. 1.
The building is at 1056 King St. across from the John L. Dart Library. It’s a big two-story hangar that’s been empty for 15 years.
Redux will occupy the 15,000-square-foot ground floor. The arts organization will have more than double the amount of space it has now, and instead of managing 16 small artist studios, it will rent 40 of them, some with windows.
The new Redux also will include a large and small gallery, a performance space, a photography studio and darkroom, a print shop, offices and a conference room. Currently the building is a shell, but the property owner will prepare it for occupancy, Huggins said. She’ll get a 10-year lease with an option to renew.
“If everything goes well, we see this as forever,” she said. “I think that Ham understands the neighborhood is craving both artistic and community space.”
She’s right, he does.
“It’s an exciting time in Charleston,” Morrison said. “There’s an artistic movement happening in that part of the peninsula. We want to be part of that. ... People come here because of the quality of life and because Charleston is cool, and that’s because of the arts.”
He said housing Redux in the building is good for Redux, good for the neighborhood and good for business.
The building was put up in 1941 by the Sottile family and was meant to be a theater. But that December the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the U.S. suddenly was in the war. The Navy leased the building and used it as a library and perhaps a barracks.
In the 1950s, a grocery store occupied the lower floor, and a roller rink, Skateland, took over the upper level. After that Port City Paper used the building. It’s sat empty since the start of the new millennium.
“(Redux) brings it to life,” Morrison said. “How great to come full circle for artistic use.”
The financial arrangement is meant to keep the space affordable for Redux while covering costs for the owners, Morrison said. Redux seeks to raise about $200,000 to help pay for the upfit.
Artists looking to rent studio space can get it at affordable rates: $285 a month for the smallest studio to $580 a month for the large 20-foot-by-12-foot room. But artists must qualify, and they must use the studio at least 15 hours every week. “This isn’t a storage space,” Huggins said.
Jack Alterman, a local photographer on the Redux board of directors, said an intense search for space that led the Redux team down “one dead-end after another” ultimately produced this happy surprise: a space that can be customized according to Redux’s particular needs.
“It’s a blank slate,” Alterman said. “We can fill it in like we want.”
One thing he wants is more photography offerings, classrooms and upgraded equipment. He plans to reach out to local photographers and encourage them to become members of Redux and rent studios.
“It’s just going to be a real complete art center,” he said, especially once photographers join the ranks of painters and sculptors. “It kind of unifies the art community to add that medium into it.”
The location is perfect, Alterman said. Many artists live in the neighborhoods north of the Crosstown. And, there’s an essential store, Artist and Craftsman Supply, nearby on King Street.
Huggins said the last show at the old Redux will feature works by some of the founders of the organization, such as Bob Snead and Seth Gadsden.
It also will be an opportunity to celebrate the nonprofit’s first 14 years and mark the start of a new phase in its evolution.
“It’s an upgrade for the organization,” Huggins said. “It will help us transition from bootstraps DYI Redux to the next level.”
A shortage of venues is among the challenges facing local arts organizations. Several groups, such as Charleston Academy of Music, Pure Theatre and Redux, have made the best out of retail and office space not designed for their needs. Other arts organizations, such as Chamber Music Charleston and Art Forms and Theatre Concepts, don’t have performance space they can call home.
Charleston lacks a recital hall, black box theater, traditional permanent jazz club, comedy club, movie screening room and rehearsal space for musicians.
Some efforts are underway to remedy this.
The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation contracted with the Minneapolis-based Artspace to produce a feasibility study for live-work space for artists that includes subsidized housing.
Hagerty has said he hopes arts organizations will find Albemarle Elementary School in West Ashley appealing and useful.
And other properties on and off the peninsula are being considered for redevelopment in order to satisfy the needs of the arts community.
Last month, South of Broadway Theatre Co. announced it would be building a new facility on Daniel Island, one that could be used by multiple theater companies.
Reach Adam Parker at 843-937-5902. Follow him at facebook.com/aparkerwriter.