Local artists soon could have reason to pop a cork, christen a newly organized venue and celebrate a modest victory at a time when space is hard to come by.
Stephen Emge, owner of the North Charleston building that has housed the art space Tua Lingua, said the current lease expires Aug. 1, after which he will take control of the property, upgrade it and change the name to Park Circle Gallery.
The software engineer purchased the derelict building about a year ago, chased out the frogs and snakes, paid about $60,000 for a new roof to stop the leaks, graveled the parking lot, rebricked the walls, rebuilt the fence, then made it available to Nathan Petro of Tua Lingua. But Petro now is moving on.
“I only started Tua Lingua because of an absence of what I needed and wanted to see in Charleston," he told The Post and Courier recently. "And although, yes, the city is getting hit with a lot of sequential loss in the arts and music scene, it’s that very loss and the emptiness it creates that will pull the next person to do something about it, take the initiative and create something new. It’s inevitable.”
Emge wants to be the next person.
He said he is determined to raise the profile of the arts venue, located at the isolated end of Reynolds Avenue. He plans to rent about a dozen studio spaces to visual artists, maintain the darkroom, provide a shared space equipped with a kiln and create a classroom area.
“It’s almost a child of mine,” he said. “I want it to grow up and be so much.”
He is undertaking the effort at a time when the Charleston area, despite its remarkable growth and high demand for art space, is experiences a net loss of venues.
Fabulon in West Ashley and The Southern on Upper Meeting Street have closed. Cone 10 Studios likely will abandon its Morrison Drive space soon. Studio space for visual artists and musicians is sorely lacking.
Some of the artists who have been using the space in recent months might remain, Emge said. He is talking with other arts organizations about potential collaborations or partnerships, and he’s trying to figure out ways to generate extra income, aside from rent, to bolster the business plan and make the venture viable long-term.
Maybe a coffee bar would work. Guest tattoo artists. Performance art. Sword swallowers. Pottery exhibits. Comic books.
“I want to diversify the experience so there are more reasons for people to be there,” he said. “If there’s money to be made in there, it takes a lot of pressure off the artists to pay heavily for their booths.”
It’s a work in progress. Emge said he hopes to open Park Circle Gallery officially at the beginning of September.