Utilizing a volume to its fullest: The May Space
While the Contemporary Arts Center undergoes a mid-life crisis in the Warehouse District, the creative revitalization of St. Claude is maturing at full speed. That fact is demonstrated in such documents as Matthew Sheard's article about The Aquarium Gallery and Studios, or Trouser House's new phase blog post.
Meanwhile, on St. Ferdinand three blocks north of St. Claude, architect Keene Kopper is living out his five-year dream of starting an international artist residency and gallery space, The May Space.
With 17-foot ceilings, brick walls, and concrete ceilings and floors, the 2,000-square-foot blank slate is artist and architect Kopper's dream. The gallery's first exhibition opened in April to a warm welcome by the arts community, with the website launch for Southerly Gold, a consortium of female New Orleans photographers.
“They were instantly sold on it,” Kopper said of the group when a friend recommended May's newly available frontier to host Southerly Gold's exhibition.
It's this dramatic response to May's architectural space that Kopper hopes will attract dynamic artist residents, a competitive curator for four exhibitions a year, and, ultimately, the deep pockets he's been “less and less bashful about” seeking. Kopper knows it's his responsibility to source funding as director, with less involvement in curating, if a more humble seat.
How will the May Space differentiate itself from the other St. Claude galleries?
Kopper believes his grand space will allow “a different type of art experience to happen,” and is especially suited for challenging and avant garde artists, primarily working in video, sound, and emerging genres. His ideal resident "has a perspective on the way politics and society are working together; aspires to either present solutions through abstract thought or is themselves being part of the documentation of history as an artist; or, is consciously watching the times and documenting them."
The residency will be an educational experience for the artist, and for the community, as the work will aim to inspire, challenge, and involve the community. A resident will live and work in the space for three months, and a curator will help coordinate an exhibition. A moderated artist's roundtable will introduce the artist. Two catalogs a year-- one for the resident's exhibition, and one for the four other exhibitions hosted each year -- will come out of May, as well as podcasts.
“I have really high aspirations for this project, obviously, but I think that it's possible,” says Kopper. The education and critical dialogue inherent in such a thorough process are Kopper's tenets, as are education and community -- many of the same tenets on which the CAC was founded.
“My background is in architecture so it's really important to me that a volume is utilized to its fullest extent to create an experience,” Kopper says. "All the way from the ceiling to the walls."
Kopper asks that artists "intentionally use it or don't use it – they may say, I'm not going to use this part of the space because it's really important to have that void as part of this exhibiton, or whatever they present."
In one month leading up to Southerly Gold's exhibition, Kopper singlehandedly built out the space by himself, "with the exception of some 12-foot-long sheets of Sheetrock."
The building that houses May is owned by James Michalopoulos, whom Kopper has assisted as a fabricator for several years. The building also houses studios for 35 to 40 other artists.
"It's pretty incredible. My job has been to build out the studios for all the other people. I basically never leave this building."
Kopper's passion to "use a volume to its fullest" is already evident; when the programming at May begins, its artists will have in Kopper a role model for how one passionately creates with space itself, however busy he is sourcing funds for his dream space.
Artist and writer Georgia Kennedy writes about New Orleans people and events for NolaVie.