The Space on Tate Street: ‘A jumping board’

by Amy Kingsley

Sculptor Jaime Coggins has stashed one of her pieces in a vacant studio abutting a shady smokers’ alley just off Tate Street. Amidst paintings stacked four-deep against the wall, the sculpture twists upward, a gentle rebar spiral skeletally evoking the leaf of a monstrous succulent.

Although it sits in the back of Tate Street’s newest art space, the piece and body of work to which it belongs have directly inspired the main gallery, which is filled with photographs, drawings, paintings and more.

‘“I’ve always had an issue finding places to show my work,’” Coggins says. ‘“Other galleries don’t have space and restaurants don’t have room. I found myself having to drive to Asheville for shows.’”

Exasperated, Coggins decided to open a gallery in Greensboro flexible enough to host an array of media and accessible to artists taking the first tentative steps in their professional careers. The first thing she did to implement this strategy was find a suitable name for this all-encompassing project. Coggins rejected the term ‘“gallery’” for its haughty and narrow connotations and instead settled on the simple moniker ‘“the Space.’”

‘“I want to remind people that art isn’t just painting and sculpture,’” she says. ‘“We want to host performing arts, visual arts, film and music.’”

For two and a half months, she has been doing just that. Coggins invites local artists to participate in weekly shows where they can display two pieces for a $10 fee. The Space will host the Fireflies performance festival over the summer and start showing fine crafts in a dedicated section.

‘“This is a place for new artists to start showing their work,’” Coggins says. ‘“People should have kind of a jumping board.’”

In that way Coggins is less a curator than a teacher. She sets deadlines and guidelines for the shows, gently introducing would-be exhibitors to the professional art world.

As we speak, Phillip Lagas Rivera, a beneficiary of her tutelage, walks by. The UNCG student first showed his work at the Space and now does so extensively. He also watches the gallery on weekends.

‘“I’ve seen his work improve tremendously over the time he’s shown here,’” Coggins says.

Sometimes, she adds, people just need a place to display work and receive critical feedback.

Seasoned artists have also shown work at the Space, but Coggins hopes to increase their visibility in the gallery come summer. In July she will start featuring established artists on the right side wall in month-long exhibits while the opposite wall cycles out every week as it has since the opening.

She’s working out the details during a break in the interview, dragging on a cigarette and talking to artist Kat Lamp on her cell phone.

Coggins learned the basics of hanging shows while an undergraduate at UNCG.

‘“Part of learning sculpture is learning space,’” Coggins says. ‘“The professors would insist you go into that space and place your work. I learned a lot, I understand how things relate to each other. Hanging a show is really just second nature to me.’”

Despite her natural proclivity, operations at the gallery have not gone completely smoothly. The Space pays for itself through donations and art sales, but Coggins still works the art loft at Addam’s bookstore to make ends meet. On a sleepy Tuesday afternoon, the donation jar holds only a handful of change and two bobby pins.

Coggins plans to apply for non-profit status over the summer so the Space will be eligible for grants and tax breaks.

‘“I think we should be able to get it,’” she says to Kat Sykes, a sculptor sitting on the floor. ‘“We’re enough like an art league. We better get it, or I don’t know what we’ll do.’”

Despite the stress, running the Space has given Coggins the opportunity to meet a wealth of Greensboro artists.

‘“That’s part of the fun, getting to meet new artists,’” she says. ‘“People are always curious, so I have to be able to answer their questions.’”

The Space is one part of a burgeoning Greensboro art scene that includes other art spaces like Lyndon Street Artworks and the rock and roll club the Flying Anvil. When I ask her what’s the best part of the Greensboro art scene, she refers to the city’s current cultural renaissance.

‘“Right now,’” she says. ‘“How it’s starting to pick up. People are starting to work and find places for their work.’”

Which all comes back around to Coggins’ own metal-casting work. It is her first love, she says, because of the energy and ritual.

‘“You have to have a community of people to do heavy metal casting,’” she says.

She would know. In addition to sculpting, she’s worked as a casting assistant. Metal is a challenging medium, she says. The artist is always at the mercy of the molten material’s technical limitations. Cast something too thin and the metal might set before it fills the shape, something you won’t see until you open the mold.

‘“It’s a good kind of frustrating,’” she says. ‘“It forces you to learn the craft.’”

Just like in metal casting, Coggins has incorporated a community into the Space. The online art portal Gate City Art hosts a show once a month, and provided early web support. Of course there are the contributing artists, a cast that’s taking shape as the Space settles into its own mold. But it isn’t set yet.

‘“This place is so open to other people’s ideas and I want it to remain that way,’” she says. ‘“I’m trying to let people know it’s here for them. I’m allowing it to grow itself instead of trying to force it. The Space is kind of a work of art itself, a collage of other people’s work.’”

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