Art: Welcome to Court St.

Downtown's Nicholas Gallery loves people, art, community and cops

Jared M. Holder

Nick Paddock, owner of Nicholas Gallery

Get ready for a party. Nick Paddock, the proprietor of the Nicholas Gallery (23 E. Court St., Downtown), is opening his sixth exhibition at his fascinating and tiny space Friday. This time, the art comes all the way from Los Angeles. The artist, AnneCharlotte Tavolacci, grew up in Cincinnati but hadn't made it back until this solo-show opportunity.

That's pretty much what Paddock likes to do — give artists opportunities, open his big gallery/garage door and let in anyone who'd like to sample his appetizers and check out some art.

Paddock, 27, has a fine arts degree from the University of Cincinnati. He's been an art teacher, which did not suit him "at all," he says. He moved on to the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC), where he worked with Emily Mello, the then-curator of education. From there, he jumped to the Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM) to help out with the Art Ventures program for children. After leaving the CAM, he moved on to the Phyllis J. Weston Art-Annie Bolling Galleries in Oakley to be a consultant.

It's a little stunning that one young person has been part of three such remarkable Cincinnati art institutions.

"There aren't many positions in the arts here," Paddock says. "If you want to stay in the industry, you have to be flexible."

Flexible Paddock certainly is. His six months working with Bolling and Weston (whom he calls "one of the greats") helped him understand how a gallery operates — all the nit-picky and precise behind-the-scenes things that must be done, all the costs incurred with openings and shipping and entertainment.

With those few months under his belt, he cashed in everything and opened his own gallery in February 2006, after four months of intense rehabbing of the old Court Street landmark, Tony Sparta's Italian Deli.

"People still wander in about once a week, asking about the deli," Paddock says. "It was a community-oriented place."

Paddock wants to keep up that tradition — granted, he offers paintings and hand-made jewelry rather than Italian meats. Every weekday, no matter the weather, the Nicholas Gallery's door will be open. Court Street is a busy mix of people, and often they can't help but stop to see what's happening inside the gallery. He often gets repeat visitors, a group of people as diverse as one could imagine — from City Council member Jim Tarbell to Paul Solomon, owner of the LOTTO store on the corner.

"Court Street is like a little neighborhood: Paul likes to check in on me," Paddock says. "So does Frank (the tailor next door). People take care of you here."

It's true — in the hour I sat with Nick and the jewelry designer and friend of the gallery, Lilly Duncan, a waiter from the Passage Café brought us all cold bottled waters and stopped to chat. A group of women came in — one of whom, while looking at a colorful abstract painting by artist Jeremy Nichols, remarked, "That's what my greenhouse looks like right now."

"It's like this all the time," Paddock tells me.

The gallery's champions can be quite unexpected as well. His openings have been great successes. The little space gets so cramped with people that there is certain to be overflow onto the sidewalk. Not a problem, though: The police aren't too worried about the excitement happening on Court Street. In fact, they seem to like it. As long as everyone stays friendly, they'll keep sending over someone to help.

"I think everyone's excited that something's going on downtown," Paddock says.

Paddock is just as excited as his buddies. He knows he's not going to get rich anytime soon, that's not the point. The point is art and community. The bottom line is simple: "Staying open." ©

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