Losing an arts space that was one of a kind
This is one line that hurts to write: Gallery Lombardi has opened its final show. On Jan. 15, five days after its annual "Xmas Expo" exhibition comes down, the 12-year-old visual-arts space will be closing its doors for good. That's painful not just because it affects the livelihood of someone close to the Chronicle – gallery director Rachel Koper has been writing about the visual arts for us for the past five years. From the day it opened in its original location by the railroad tracks and around the corner from the Electric Lounge at Third and Bowie, it has been an Eastside gallery with a west-side address. By which I mean that the same sort of scruffy, can-do spirit and DIY attitude; the restless creativity and energetic ingenuity; the variety, wit, and desire to have a good time that characterize some of the best arts spaces in East Austin were evident in Lombardi. Even when its first home was lost to the urban progress of recent years and the gallery relocated to a somewhat tonier address on West Seventh, you could count on Lombardi to keep on rockin' it – metaphorically, in terms of its art, and literally, in terms of its openings with live music and DJs.
But art galleries can't keep going on rock-fueled creative drive alone, and 2008 has not been good for Lombardi financially. "We haven't made nearly enough money this year," Koper confessed in an e-mail she circulated to Lombardi patrons and friends. So the decision was made to wind down the show, and the space is now up for lease.
The news was made public at the opening of this year's "Xmas Expo" on Dec. 5, and in a style totally befitting Gallery Lombardi, it was announced through a work of art. Proprietor Ron Prince unveiled a collage of his own making titled The Gallery Will Close in Jan. 2009. The irreverence in that gesture just goes to show the character behind the gallery. Koper says that her boss' motto has always been, "Everyone is an artist," and that he says: "If you are a creative person and you have an opportunity to be creative, consider yourself blessed. The rest is window dressing." For her part, Koper counts herself "lucky" to have had eight years to work "in this creative, supportive environment," during which time she directed and/or curated 144 group art shows. "It's been a dream come true and a learning opportunity for me," she says. "Ron and I both have no regrets and are proud of the artwork we've shown and the artists we've come to love over the years."
And don't expect either of them to be a puddle of tears between now and Jan. 15. "We don't like whiners and sobbers," says Koper. "We do like hearing stories about the best thing you ever saw or did at Gallery Lombardi." So drop by, and let Koper and Prince know just how much you appreciate what they've done for the Austin arts during the life of Gallery Lombardi. And if you happen to know of any employment opportunities, especially near Downtown, would you let Koper know? She'd appreciate that, too.
"Xmas Expo" will be on view through Jan. 10 at Gallery Lombardi, 602 W. Seventh Ste. A. For more information, call 481-1088 or visit www.gallerylombardi.com.