When the Northside-based nonprofit art organization PAR-Projects was starting a decade ago, it led a somewhat nomadic existence. Rather than having a central location, it used two large shipping containers as mobile galleries, while also working with others on exhibits and classes.
That began to change in 2016, when it acquired a vacant, 6,000-square-foot wooden lumber-drying building — akin to a barn — at 1662 Hoffner St. Although PAR-Projects (PAR is an acronym for Professional Artistic Research) first planned to tear it down to reuse the land, it has since reconsidered.
So far, the building — now with a new metal roof — has hosted some of the best installation-art projects I’ve seen locally in its evocative 1,100-square-foot space, like Michigan artist Lisa Walcott’s Making Space and Cincinnati artist Rick Mallette’s FIRE. The first installation of 2020, set to open in June, looks very promising, too — it features the work of Rochester, New York-based artist Susan Ferrari Rowley, who was one of seven sculptors that participated in a show connected to the 2018 International Architecture Exhibit in Venice, Italy.
In fact, 2020 looks to provide PAR-Projects with a great leap forward on several fronts. The nonprofit hopes to take giant steps to create a permanent arts complex, appealing to diverse users, in the heart of Northside’s old industrial area. If all goes as planned, it will renovate for artistic uses an adjacent 15,000-square-foot building at 1646 Hoffner St., previously home to the manufacturer of an environmentally sustainable line of women’s apparel called lur. The new space will be called Studeō PAR-.
PAR-Projects committed to buying the site late last year and now has possession. Simultaneously, after a series of delays, PAR-Projects is moving forward to create an outdoor cinema with an event lawn on the grounds of its 1662 Hoffner St. site.
“This goes back to our original vision for owning anything,” says Jonathan Sears, PAR-Projects’ executive director, of all the activity. “Now we’re going to be able to do everything we want.”
Already Sears has announced the names of four artists and creatives who will sublet space in the new building — woodworker Ginny Krone of groove & knot co., Doug Meyers of SkyVengers Cartoon animation studio, Kick Lee of Cincinnati Music Accelerator and Rick Wolf of Wolf Custom Tile & Design.
“Much of the PAR-Projects mission is community building through the arts and art education,” says Wolf, a Northside resident and also a board member of the organization. “And this is an opportunity for (that) unlike anything that had been dreamed of, by housing artists.”
When Mark Heiman, owner of the lur apparel line and its building, announced his retirement, Sears inquired about buying the site. A meeting was scheduled. “It was very casual,” Sears says, explaining that Heiman said, “I’ve heard good things and I’d like to help out, here’s an offer.”
“It was better than a fair price,” Sears says. “And it has a back-end out if it doesn’t work out.”
Sears didn’t want to divulge the price without his board’s permission, but Heiman — who deferred to Sears on that point — says, “I wanted this to be something he could do and, understanding the constraints on nonprofits, I just made favorable terms based on that.”
For the first year, PAR-Projects has a lease with an option to buy. In January 2021, it becomes a mortgage with the same monthly terms and no necessary down payment, although PAR-Projects may choose to make one.
On a recent weekday afternoon, Sears gave a tour of the spacious new property — it’s actually six interconnected buildings — and explained what will be changed as part of the renovations he plans to begin soon. First is an office space that, with some work on the walls and removal of fluorescent lights, will become a community room that can be expanded. Another self-contained room will house groove & knot, because it has space for a built-in exhaust fan to the outside.
Another open, relatively modern-looking space will house the animation studio and a classroom for teaching digital media. To the rear is where the building begins to look like an old factory. Accessible via a sliding metal door is roughly 2,500 square feet of open space that is temporarily home to a ghostly-looking resin car, an artwork. Adjacent to that is a 1,000-square-foot room with a skylight that will be adapted into a permanent gallery space. “We’ll focus exclusively on wall art,” Sears says.
Especially interesting is a loft-like, concrete-floored upstairs space that Sears and I reached via an old factory elevator that he hand-operated. There were blocks of windows facing outside, many in need of panes. Elsewhere, windows were completely bricked-up, but Sears wants to convert them to glass block. In the middle of the room is an expansive conference table, which he says they used for a board meeting.
While Sears pursues getting Studeō PAR- up and running, he’s also preparing to build the outdoor cinema and event lawn on the property that came with the lumber-drying facility. His original plans had called for stacking two existing shipping containers to provide backing for the screen and to also be outfitted for restrooms. But problems emerged last year finding a sewer-line connection, even though a map showed one existed.
And then there was a snag related to the use of the shipping containers. At an estimated extra cost of more than $40,000, PAR-Projects has come up with an alternative. Sears hopes to have the cinema operating by June.
“The goal is to have a full mix of film,” he says. “I’ve had conversations with a number of people about curating.
“The funny thing is we already have the sound system and projectors, we even have turf because we thought we were going to open last year.”
Finishing the tour of Studeō PAR-, Sears looks admiringly at a high sign on the building’s front property, near Hoffner Street, announcing “Finish Master Automotive Paint Store.”
It belongs to him, once building ownership becomes final. It’s the kind of exposure any art gallery would crave.
“My gut tells me we may use this someday,” he says.
For more information on PAR-Projects, visit facebook.com/parprojects.