Vacant Paonia storefront houses 'phantom gallery'

By Tamie Meck


Vacant Paonia storefront houses 'phantom gallery' | Paonia, artist

Photo by Tamie Meck North Fork artist Cedar Keshet, posing with dog Kova, recently installed her paintings in the vacant commercial space at 237 Grand Avenue. Called "phantom galleries," empty storefronts offer alternative and affordable ways for artists

Paonia artist Cedar Keshet is a prolific painter. Her works, mostly oils on canvas, take the viewer on a tour of western landscapes, from the first snowfall on Mt. Lamborn and summer on West Beckwith Pass, to the desert cacti of the Southwest and the formations of the Great Basin of Nevada. Her works have shown from Chicago to San Francisco and are held by collectors across the country.

Keshet, a member of the North Fork Valley Creative Coalition, has exhibited locally at the Blue Sage Center for the Arts and other locations. But in small towns, local exhibition space can be limited. So when Keshet decided to exhibit several of her recent works, she turned to an unconventional resource: empty storefronts. Last Monday Keshet hung about 30 oil paintings in the windows of the 110-year-old building at 237 Grand, which was last inhabited by a tattoo shop. No, she didn't open up a gallery. Keshet asked building owner John Blair with DC Hawkins if, since the space is vacant, she could hang some paintings in the window.

"He immediately said yes," said Keshet. "He was so kind and so generous," and told her she can use the space until the building is rented.

This alternative way of exhibiting artwork is known as a "phantom gallery," explained Keshet. Unlike pop-up galleries -- temporary exhibitions on display for a few hours to a few days -- phantom galleries occupy empty commercial spaces.

Keshet learned about the concept of phantom galleries through a friend who told her about Helper, a tiny community in rural Carbon County near Price, Utah. Starting in the early 2000s Helper was transformed from a dying town into a thriving arts community. Before artists created their own spaces, she said, they displayed their works in vacant storefronts. Since storefronts are among the first things visitors notice, when there's something other than a "for sale" or "for rent" sign in the windows, the entire downtown looks more vibrant, said Keshet.

The building is otherwise vacant and doors are locked. Those interested in a painting or wanting to talk to her can find a brief bio, contact information and Keshet's website and blog addresses in the window.

There are currently several vacant spaces along Grand Avenue, said Keshet. "It would be really great if other store fronts would allow artists to do that." Of course it's up to the artist to ask. She hopes it inspires artists to do what she did and make the first contact.