Richmond needs a Gallery5.
But after 14 years of holding fire performances, burlesque, nude art shows, bingo, silent movies, local and national bands and just about anything else imaginable, Gallery5 had a problem. The 19th-century firehouse was in desperate need of a nip and tuck and not just for cosmetic reasons.
Enter Bruce Vanderbilt of Vanderbilt Properties, the proud new owner of 200 W. Marshall St. Vanderbilt, a fan of old architecture, had renovated a firehouse in Shockoe Bottom and was looking to re-create that success.
"The previous owner had checked out and wasn't charging a lot of rent, which was good for Gallery5," Vanderbilt says. "But the building took a heavy toll without the attention it's needed for some time now." The roof has extensive damage that existed long before Gallery5 was launched in 2005, so stabilizing and rebuilding that is priority one.
The entire facade is getting a face-lift with vine removal, repairs, new paint, lighting and new awnings. Currently the roof is being replaced and facade restoration has begun. The good news is that the new owner plans to continue using the building for Gallery5's nonprofit mission of engaging communities through the arts. That means it will still have a home in the arts district in the historic Jackson Ward neighborhood.
Musician Prabir Mehta founded Galley5's board of directors in 2005 and became the founding president. The position involved running the business and legal sides of a nonprofit, but he also volunteered as a music booker, sound engineer and helped market the organization. In 2010, he stepped down to give others a chance to lead and Justin Laughter, Nick Crider and Brian Phelps were vital to keeping the lights on and the mission moving forward. In late 2016, Mehta rejoined the board of directors and was elected its chairman.
"It's a unique place where you can come experience visual and performance art, mingle with artists, network with overlapping arts scenes, get inspired, create art and then have an opportunity to share it with others on our walls and stage," he says, emphasizing that the space is open to everyone in Richmond.
Parker Galore has been involved with Gallery5 since the beginning, having walked into the old firehouse and immediately fallen in love. Along with Amanda Robinson, the two had brainstormed ways to best utilize the building as an arts and culture hub, debuting the space in 2005 to an enthusiastic public. These days, he's acting interim executive director, community liaison and on the board of directors, while also curating some art shows.
"We all wear many hats," he says. "I've always volunteered my time and energy here because I believe in what we've all been working toward."
The second floor will be shut down for most of 2019 for a complete overhaul, including new electricity, plumbing, more restrooms and a kitchenette, with the goal of creating two tenant spaces upstairs. A staircase will be installed near the current front door leading to the second level. "Don't worry," Parker says. "The fire poles aren't going anywhere."
Vanderbilt says they're keeping the renovations simple so that the building can go back to being a single-owner space. "If Gallery5 gets to the point where they can generate enough income to afford the whole space, we can do that easily."
The last 14 years have been possible for Gallery5 solely because of the tireless efforts of some very devoted people. Parker and Mehta agree that the biggest misconception about Gallery5 is that it'll be around forever no matter what.
Not so, Mehta says. "We're not a for-profit music venue with a kitchen and open for lunch. We're not a state funded and endowment-secured arts organization with endless budget opportunities. We're not a privately-run art gallery hosting private events and weekly rentals for enhancing income. We're Richmond's folk song. We're created and run by passionate like-minded folks who want to ensure a home for the emerging arts in Richmond."
Along with a continuing goal of getting supporters of creativity together under one roof to create comfortable, safe, inspiring environments where people can enjoy themselves, Gallery5 now adds the challenges of a yearlong building renovation. For a while, all events will be held downstairs while renovations continue upstairs.
"Creativity and conversation stimulate community and collaboration. And we aim to continue to be a hub for arts and culture," Parker says. "Beyond that we're still in negotiations on the changes that the building may see in the months and years to come."
As part of the new building ownership, Gallery5's rent is about to increase several times over. It will be held accountable for a large amount of upkeep and building-related items, which won't be easy with the rent hike. Mehta is quick to point out that Gallery5 began as a passionate and chaotic explosion in 2005. Since then the business has stabilized and kept the operations going for 14 years. The new goal is to ensure that Richmond has Gallery 5 forever.
"I can honestly say this is one of the most unique and loved places in Richmond because we are sincerely doing this out of our passion for the arts," he says. "We have a very small part-time staff and a giant network of community volunteers to thank for 14 years of giving Richmond one of the weirdest and coolest venues for a vast range of art."
Gallery5 's14-Year Anniversary is held during First Fridays Celebration on Friday, April 5, 7 p.m. - 2 a.m. with Party Liberation Front Pyro Circus, Richmond Moon Market, bands, DJs and food trucks. 200 W. Marshall St.