Gallery 708's Future in the New Downtown

Open since November, the gallery showcases oil still lifes, prints of local landmarks, porcelain vases and much more from 30 artists.

click to enlarge Downtown’s Gallery 708 has curated inventory from 30 artists. - Photo: Sara Pearce
Photo: Sara Pearce
Downtown’s Gallery 708 has curated inventory from 30 artists.
The tagline for Gallery 708 is “fine art, fine craft,” a signal that it embraces what’s hip while maintaining old-school quality. Open since November at 708 Walnut St., it’s a bright, new artist-run gallery that reflects a bright, new Cincinnati — especially downtown’s core.

In addition to showcasing oil still lifes, prints of Cincinnati landmarks, porcelain vases and bronze sculptures, the space sells fused glass pieces, sleek wooden stools, Jewish mezuzahs (door hangings), hand-dyed scarves and wire-wrapped jewelry. The curated inventory from 30 emerging and established names taps into a growing appreciation for makers and broadens the definition of what a fine art gallery can be. Staid white walls have met the fun, colorful shops of Etsy.

The leaders of Gallery 708 — jewelry maker Lisa Inglert and textile artist Phyllis Sadler on the business side and collage artist Sara Pearce on the curatorial and promotional side — see potential for discovery inside and outside their doors. 

“One of the good things about being in the core business district is the city has a new focus on (it),” says Pearce, a former arts writer at The Cincinnati Enquirer. “I’d kind of thought of it as the black hole between The Banks and Over-the-Rhine.” 

Downtown’s center is suddenly a place to live as well as work. Pearce wants to reach condo residents along the streetcar route with happy hours, scavenger hunts and demonstrations from the likes of painter Cedric Michael Cox, as well as Constella Festival concerts this Thursday and Saturday. She plans to market a visual arts corridor with the Weston Art Gallery, Main Library, YWCA Women’s Art Gallery, Contemporary Arts Center and 21c Museum Hotel. 

Though they are the new kids on the block, Pearce, Sadler and Inglert have been witnessing downtown’s transformation only a couple blocks away as members of the 5th Street Gallery cooperative in Carew Tower. But at the end of 2015, the tower’s new owner told those artists they would need to exit.

Inglert did check the East Side and Over-the-Rhine, but the members’ goal always was to stay in the city core. (Some have continued 5th Street Gallery as a pop-up in Macy’s.) As word of the artists’ search spread, real estate investors started approaching them. One was Mike Besl at 708 Walnut, who told Sadler and Inglert that he had longed for an art gallery. His building next to Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse had most recently housed a boxing studio on its ground floor. 

The old gym’s black and red walls were transformed into 3,700 square feet of gleaming display space. After securing three times the room they had at 5th Street, Sadler and Inglert recruited Pearce to fill it with nearly three times the number of artists. In addition to committing to downtown’s rebranding, the three women declared a strong allegiance to their fellow creatives, especially crafters who have never had the chance to show in a gallery before.

As an artist-run and -juried collective, Gallery 708 is able to show what Sadler calls hidden treasures on its own terms. Surprises include artist books (works of art in book form) by Judith Serling-Sturm, whose “Unarmed in America” looks like an entire museum exhibit on race relations shrunk to shelf size. Inglert marvels at being able to see Glenna Adkins’ paintings — big, appealing abstracts dominated by geometric patterns — anytime, without waiting for Final Friday at Pendleton or the Hyde Park Art Show.

Response was strong during the holidays — the gallery held its grand opening Dec. 1. Pearce says sales dropped significantly in January but rose in February with a Valentine’s Day-themed event. The gallery, open until 7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, is seeing a pickup in foot traffic with daylight saving time. The challenge is to keep them coming.

5th Street Gallery depended on traffic from the convention center. Inglert says one survey showed over 70 percent of its buyers came from out of town. “We’re no longer in the location where every tourist in town is going to trip over our doormat,” she says. 

But these are new days downtown. Condo dwellers are putting doormats on the floors and, Gallery 708 hopes, art on the walls. 


708 GALLERY is located at 708 Walnut St., Downtown. More info: facebook.com/708gallery

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