Final exhibition marks transition period for downtown Public Space One location

BY REBEKAH SONS | JUNE 10, 2013 5:00 AM

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The première of a independent film on June 7 marked the end of an almost five-year residence inside the University of Iowa Jefferson Building for one local nonprofit organization.

Public Space One, 129 E. Washington St., has been a mainstay in the Iowa City arts community since 2000, hosting community artists, actors, musicians, and writers.

That all changed in February, when UI officials informed the group that because of increased security risk posed by hosting late-night performances in the building’s lower level, Public Space One would have to vacate the 2,500-square-foot space by July 1. That date has now been pushed back to Sept. 1.

And although Public Space One officials say leaving their current home will prove to be a challenge, they said a new location will allow artists to start fresh.

“We’re basically a family here,” said Jonathan Rattner, a Vanderbilt University assistant professor and director of Film Studies and Art.

Wanting to be a part of the group’s mission since 2000, a move to Vanderbilt that year stopped him from hosting an Iowa City show until now.

His production The Untitled Bombsite Project on June 7 marked the final exhibition in the Washington Street location.

“You enter a different world,” he said about the Jefferson Building space. “It feels very special. It’s in a weird atmosphere, an escape from the outside world.”

Artists will have the months of July and August to fully move into their new location in the Wesley Center, 120 N. Dubuque St., just a few blocks away.

To date, up to 80 percent of the venue’s programming takes place at the Wesley Center.

The move will bring Public Space One more space and an official stage, but there are some things about the Jefferson Building that makes the move hard for some.

“It’s not your typical white-cube space,” director John Engelbrecht said. “You have to contend with the literal holes in the walls. I’m going to miss that it has problems.”

Engelbrecht said that in the Jefferson Building he found what he wanted to do with his life, after coming to the realization that a flux of art jobs in Iowa City weren’t present.

From potluck-style gallery shows and relying on art auctions for financial means, the organization has had a humble beginning. When Engelbrecht joined the organization in 2010, a once nonexistent budget quickly grew nearly $14,000.

This year, the budget was around $40,000, which includes Engelbrecht’s salary and the Wesley Center’s budget.

Kalmia Strong and Gina Tarullo, who have volunteered for the nonprofit for roughly two years, first sought out a “raw” arts venue.

“I was just sort of looking for where the non-commercial arts community was in Iowa City,” she said.

Strong said the holes in the walls and falling-down ceilings in areas of the gallery and studio spaces help define the space.

“As an alternative arts space, this is what it’s all about,” she said. “Bands love how ‘grungy’ it is.”

Finding out about the move was hard for Strong, calling the situation for leaving “interesting.”

When the organization announced its move, though, she said, it received a lot of support from community members, the city of Iowa City, and the new landlords at the Wesley Center.

Tarullo said the draw at the Wesley Center has yet to be determined and as much as she is going to miss the current space, she said it would be nice to focus the group’s energy in a new spot.

That new spot is two and a half times larger than the current space, complete with six studios, a stage, garden, and full kitchen.

Noting the aid of Amanda Styron of Seed Here Studio, who informed Engelbrecht about the departure of the Free Medical Clinic and Free Lunch Program, he said the organization would have ceased to exist without the new location.

“To me, the whole situation has showed me that while the [physical] space is important, it’s more important what people inside the space do,” Strong said.

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