Creative Economy

New space, renewed vision: Albany Center Gallery grows and evolves

New space, renewed vision: Albany Center Gallery grows and evolves

Photo by Thom Williams

The Wednesday (Jan. 18) debut of Albany Center Gallery’s new location in the Broadway Arcade building is a hit. It’s 5:30 PM and the place is packed, such that it’s not easy to really appreciate the art. Executive director Tony Iadicicco and ACG board president Jessica Mansmith can be spotted at opposite ends of the room, and both appear very pleased. DJ Trumastr is spinning music. The turnout is such that they’ve run out of programs after only 30 minutes, and people are lined up near the entrance to sign the guest book.

On the wall near the book is a photo of the ACG’s late founder, Leslie (“Les”) Urbach. This is a reminder of the gallery’s long history, and its evolution over the years from the original Monroe Street location, subsequent spaces that included the Albany Public Library’s main branch and its most recent home, a couple of blocks away, on Columbia Street.

A week and a half earlier, the scene was quite different. Entering the gallery through its Maiden Lane entrance, Jessica Mansmith can be spotted carrying a paint brush. And it’s not for making art.

“Everyone’s pitching in,” she says. Board member Carl Gonzales and board vice president Kevin Dubner also have paint brushes in hand, and are hard at work touching up the walls and trim with white paint. Dubner looks up, introduces himself and gets back to painting. You can see that, despite all the cardboard on windows and floors to guard against the white paint, the space is almost ready.

“We’re so excited,” Gonzales says.

Everyone’s busy. Tony Iadicicco is checking the hand-painted chef’s jackets that will be worn during Wine and Dine With the Arts; Albany Center Gallery is a primary beneficiary of this year’s arts fundraising event, and even the chefs’ attire will be art. Mansmith gives The Alt a quick tour of the space.

The first thing you notice is the light. The large windows and high ceilings give the room plenty of, and plenty of room for it. There’s also plenty of wall space for hanging art; an unobtrusive ramp that not only provides much needed handicapped access–this was an issue at some previous ACG locations–but neatly provides the room’s center and leads from the gallery space to the office and bathroom. The back of the gallery faces the arcade that gives the building its name, and will be a second entry point. The feeling is open, clean and modern, but with vintage architectural features that remind you you’re in a great old building that’s being renewed with great care.

Finished with the jackets, Iadicicco walks over and talks about the opening.

“It’s going to be pretty powerful,” he says. “It gives me chills thinking about it.”

It will take four days to install the works of 175 artists in this year’s annual Members Show. Gallery members live and work within 100 miles of Albany, and this salon-style exhibit is a significant annual event; having it be the gallery’s reopening show will, he hopes, intensify exposure for the occasion.

“We want people to feel the openness of the space,” he says, pointing out how the white walls and dark floors enhance this feeling.

He also notes that ACG is very fortunate: “This is actually built for a gallery.” He and the board worked closely with the building’s owners, Fairbank Properties, to create something designed for art. “The owners understood the importance,” he says, of what they were doing.

After pointing out the various features of the new gallery, Iadicicco walks into the arcade. Stacks Espresso is next door, facing Broadway. The rest of the arcade will be retail space. After languishing for a decade, the building has been extensively renovated, emphasizing the historic nature of the 1928 office building. The former offices, however, have been converted into 60 luxury apartments.

It’s not really gentrification–no one lived in this part of downtown for decades, it was largely commercial office space–as it is an exercise in building a neighborhood from scratch. This development is in line with what’s going on further south on Broadway, opposite SUNY System Administration (the D&H Building). When the reporter mentions the legion of dog walkers now over in SUNY’s front yard at all hours, Iadicicco notes with some surprise seeing people walking with strollers through the area. It’s definitely something new and growing.

And the arts are a key part of this. Opposite Maiden Lane from the gallery is a park that sees a lot of foot traffic in the summer from the many people who still work downtown, and it’s easy to imagine ACG fitting into the scene.

After the Members Show, Iadicicco explains, there will be the annual high school regional, and, this year, ACG is hosting the photo regional, another event that will draw artists and art lovers from all over the region to Albany Center Gallery.

Iadicicco says he’s planning for expanded events, including more artist talks, movie nights and partnering with Stack on some events.

“We hired a new staff member on Tuesday.” (For a long time, the full-time staff was just Iadicicco.) “It’s a host of new and exciting changes,” he says. “Every month [will be] a different flavor.”

Back at the opening, by 6 PM the crowd has grown even more, and is spilling into the arcade. There’s food there, and chairs, and another musician. In the gallery, you can appreciate–even with the crowds–how well the art can be experienced in the finished room. In the arcade, you can see how, as a purely social space, this might actually work.

Wandering over to Stacks Espresso, there’s a cozy group sitting at the coffee bar. They’ve got a DJ/musician, too. Sitting by the window facing Broadway, you can watch yet more people headed for the ACG’s side entrance.

Art can be a pretty good draw.

Albany Center Gallery is located at 488 Broadway. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 5 PM, or by appointment. Call the gallery for more info at 462-4775.

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