Inspired by similar efforts in Portland and Eugene, Ross Swartzendruber has initiated innovative ways of bringing area artwork to downtown Salem while also boosting property values.
His “Pop-Up Gallery,” located inside Salem Center Mall in downtown Salem, provides a way to utilize empty mall properties by filling them with the work of local artists. The temporary “occupancy” makes the mall look friendlier in general and makes the actual occupied space more attractive to potential tenants.
When the space is rented out, the Pop-Up Gallery just moves to another empty space.
“It’s going great,” Swartzendruber says. “Property owners are interested because the mere fact of having a space “in use” helps attract leasers to empty places. For example we were told that no one wanted the first location we tried in November 2011. We spent just $800 for paint and upgrades, and within 3 months the place attracted a good tenant. The mall owner [General Growth Properties] was very pleased.”
The artists whose work is shown benefit too, of course, because they are given a “very good” consignment rate and are on display in a retail environment, where they would seldom ordinarily be. Since the gallery opened, it has attracted over 100 artists who are drawn to the opportunity.
“Malls have a very different crowd than regular galleries. We’re exposing art to customers that no gallery has access to,” Swartzendruber says. “And, due to our success in the first space we now have a double space. So now we’re able to teach classes and hold events, and promote art even further.”
Pop-Up Gallery is operated by the Salem Creative Network, SCN, a nonprofit of which Swartzendruber is president. He also owns Solarize Salem and is running as the Democrat this year in Oregon House District 23. A man who’s always busy, he points to another effort SCN has taken on, which he unofficially calls the “Liberty Street Storefront Project.”
The idea is to take an empty storefront like 260 and 280 Liberty Street and put art in the windows. SCN has done just that.
“This is very expensive real estate,” Swartzendruber comments, looking around the empty building. “It should be the centermost, most hoppin’ property in the Willamette Valley – and it’s vacant. “ Now, thanks to SCN, art fills the windows, offering an interesting alternative to conventional “For Sale” or “For Lease” signs. The art makes the property more appealing, it provides diversion for passersby and it directs people to the Pop-Up Gallery.
It’s the kind of win-win solution Swartzendruber strives for. “There needs to be a way to help downtown property owners reinvest in downtown properties,” he says. “We’re losing too much tax revenue from vacant, dormant buildings. The city of Salem needs those tax revenues to rehire our fireman and police back. If there’s some creative way we can get revenue from spaces like this again, it will be good for the whole community.”
Swartzendruber is drawn to both innovation and collaboration. “It would be great if more organizations would collaborate because it would accelerate creativity downtown and get the economy going. We’ll all get to where we want to go faster when we work together.”