Behind the colorful sliding doors of a historic barn on Wooster Pike in Milford, an explosion of contemporary art is thriving.
The building’s interior walls are a conglomerate of wood, perfuming the space with scents of cedar and sandalwood. The Little Miami River rushes through the backyard, adding even more ambiance to the space.
These cozy attributes are now home to the new artist collective PAUSE OFF, owned by three Milford natives who curated the vibrant space and installed five working studios plus a gallery.
The collective’s name refers to hitting “play,” as in lifting a pause. As three friends from high school, PAUSE OFF’s owners materialized their dream of creating space for artists and for people to experience and make art. Husband and wife Lindsey and Chris Clements graduated from The Art Academy of Cincinnati with sculpting degrees, while Noelle Dumont is self-taught. The trio worked with collective members Sam Zachary and Corey Schultz to bring the space to life and promote a creative, functional gallery and studios. Together, the group represents artistic styles like sculpting, painting, pottery, quilting, writing and photography.
PAUSE OFF opened to the public in May and is gearing up for a second gallery exhibition to open in August.
“If you’re not paused, you’re playing. It’s an active place,” Lindsey Clements says of the meaning behind the name of the collective. “We’ve always dreamed of some sort of collective. We all have a shared interest in continuing to practice and make work all the time and in one building. We’ve rented studios before – lots of places – and so we’ve always liked the idea of working with multiple artists in one building, but we never had the space or knew where to find it.”
It turns out, the space they’d hoped to discover has been a working part of their community since the 1900s. The barn housing PAUSE OFF served Milford as The Reihle Planing Company from 1930 until the mid ’60s, according to the Greater Milford Area Historical Society. Before that, it was a stable. The structure went on to house a local cabinet maker and woodworker.
Carolyn Sue Johnston bought the barn in 2010 with the hopes of preserving it and giving it an artistic purpose. After she passed in 2018, the building went to her son, Adam Smith. That’s where Chris Clements and the vision for PAUSE OFF came in.
“We felt that [Johnston] would have been so happy after the woodworker moved out that an artistic group moved in there,” says Darryl Donovan, barn landlord of four years and Johntson family friend. “She was very much a person that believed in artistic expression.”
“Chris was the first person I met when I moved to Milford, and he showed up one day and was talking to Adam about renting it,” Donovan continues. “And so Adam and I talked, and we both agreed that they were the perfect fit. Chris had this exuberance about what they wanted to do with it, and when they moved in, they did nothing but improve it.”
The PAUSE OFF team has been renting the building for about two years now, but they’ve spent most of that time cleaning and renovating the space. They’ve built a few walls and put a lot of effort into clearing scrap wood, sawdust and rogue nails. The custom studio spaces are works of art themselves, each with its own personality and colorful flair.
The open floor plan allows visitors to roam freely, but the different personalities of the artists are apparent when entering a new space. Shultz has cultivated a cozy corner of the barn – a tidy area with a typewriter and poetry on the walls. Dumont’s studio is adorned with organized fabric and yarn, some quilt plans above her desk and a collage of polaroids cascading from the ceiling. The collective makes use of leftover wood planing machines that are too heavy to move; Dumont especially enjoys the one closest to her workspace, as it doubles perfectly as an iron for her fabric.
“I think it’s just like with any old building – all the character and all the little bits of who’s walked here and why things are the way they are,” Chris Clements says. “It’s the only barn left in Old Milford. I think when you walk in, you feed off of all the things that have happened in here.”
“It’s always been a functional building; it had a purpose of making things,” he continues. “Like, when it was a woodshop, it was planing boards for houses. It was being functionally important to the community. I think now [that] we are making something, we are giving the community art, we are feeding it in a different way.”
PAUSE OFF opened its doors to the public on May 27 with the debut exhibit Refills, which honors the five members’ shared professional experience in the restaurant industry. Refills is still on view for a limited time.
Among the installations and textile art in the Refills exhibit, Lindsey Clement’s sculptures are the brightest of the bunch, literally. A deflated ball masked with reflective disco tiles and draped with neon-pink chains titled “Nothing Good Happens After 10 p.m.” hangs next to a one-of-a-kind pair of earrings called “Narry’s Nightmare Nails.” For that, the artist joined acrylic nails to create three-foot long, flamboyant earrings.
The collective members already are well-known in Milford, having managed and served at local establishments like The Governor and 20 Brix.
“Refills was a play on our roles in our jobs,” Chris Clements says. “And also like, here’s a refill, here’s something to refresh you. But it wasn’t a typical gallery show. We didn’t put up prices or anything like that. We really just wanted people to experience it. It was really just a taste of everybody’s aesthetic.”
Even though the collective didn’t aim to create sales, the outpouring of community support led to multiple transactions and private donations. Karen Dorn, a regular customer at The Governor — where Chris and Dumont work — attended the opening and bought a painting from Lindsey.
“I feel like it’s a model that we don’t see very often here. I have some experience with the arts community here in Cincinnati. Pendelton is kind of a good example of a studio-slash-gallery workspace in Cincinnati, but when you get outside of the urban core, you are not seeing much of that,” Dorn says. “I think the concept fills a gap in the city but especially outside of downtown proper. Community-wise, it was incredible to me when we went out for the opening to see the number of people from the Milford community and elsewhere.”
PAUSE OFF is part of Milford’s renaissance, with Main Street just around the corner seeing significant growth over the past few years thanks to the addition of Little Miami Brewing Company, various restaurants and shops and the 2019 creation of a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA).
“Milford is now becoming cool. It’s crazy,” Chris Clements says. “I’ve waited my whole life for it. You have nature everywhere, the river, this little hometown Main Street with cute buildings. The community is really great, and if there’s more places like this, we get to keep those talented people here. If you would have seen Milford 10 years ago, the transformation is crazy.”
The collective is preparing for its upcoming exhibition Body, an all-female-identifying show that’s scheduled to open Aug. 19. Chris Clements says it is especially important to the collective to promote women’s points of view, with reproductive health and rights taking permanent spots in the current news cycle. PAUSE OFF is dedicated to hosting shows monthly, with an exception in winter.
PAUSE OFF renovations will be completed in the coming year, and the space eventually will function as an art center that offers classes, summer camps and space for individual artists.
PAUSE OFF. An Artist Collective is located at 24 Wooster Pike, Milford. For information about the artist collective and upcoming exhibitions, visit pauseoffanartistcollective.com.