When Anneliessa Balk-Stimpert and her husband Sam opened the Visual Arts Collective in a leased space in the burgeoning Linen District in the fall of 2005, their objective was to create a place where people could go enjoy, support and participate in visual and performance art. Their focus was far-reaching and included presenting musical acts covering a number of different genres, visual exhibits from 3-D art to graphic design and theater performances. They even hosted a group who practice the art of body suspension. VAC was shaping up to be the cornerstone of the Linen District—a multi-faceted, multi-purpose space from which other businesses and organizations coming into the district would take their cues. And the businesses were coming in: Eyes of the World moved in to the district from their Eighth Street location, the Modern Hotel renovated the old TravelLodge. But then to the surprise of most everyone—except the Stimperts—they announced VAC would be moving. Even more shocking, they were relocating to an area still trying to shed its image of a tattoo shop/biker bar/trailer park haven: Garden City.
Balk-Stimpert said the move wasn't really unexpected. Garden City had recently announced a 10-year plan for creating a "Live, Work, Create" district, something right in line with what the Stimperts envisioned for VAC. They had also always hoped to own the space that housed their vision. For awhile, Balk-Stimpert said she had been looking at warehouse properties on the market. Plus, the rent on the leased Grove Street location had been raised, and stipulations from the city to maintain that space meant even more expenditures. So although the rest of the community was surprised, the move to the 7,000 square-foot space (that was once a huge storage/work facility for the Harley-Davidson dealer) behind the Woman of Steel Gallery on Chinden Blvd. wasn't a strange plan for them at all especially considering they will be sharing it with their new business partner Steve Fulton, owner of Audiolab recording studios. Unfortunately, they have had their share of obstacles such as startling construction delays and costs. The Stimperts had hoped to re-open in September, but the place is far from ready.
"[The planned September opening] was before we knew what the hell we were doing," said Fulton.
"We didn't have any idea it would entail the amount of work it has. It's been a phenomenal amount of work," Balk-Stimpert says. And Stimpert has done much of the work himself.
But no matter how much sweat equity Stimpert puts into the building, certain aspects of a job of that magnitude require professionals.
"A big part of the delay has been a lack of communication," Balk-Stimpert said. "We're laypeople. This is the first time we've ever done anything like this. We didn't know what to expect." For instance, they believed that if they capped the building capacity at 299 people, they wouldn't have to put in a sprinkler system. They were just weeks from opening when the North Ada County fire marshal told them that they were wrong in that assessment. They absolutely would have to put in sprinklers. "The initial bid for the system was around $90,000," Balk-Stimpert said. "We got another bid for $63,000, and we took it, but we had depleted our construction loan by that time, which is why we're holding a construction fundraiser."
When asked about a projected opening date, Balk-Stimpert said, "We're looking at the first of January."
"We'll be lucky to open at the end of January," Stimpert interjected. Just getting through the initial paperwork process for the sprinklers will take three weeks, he added. "Because of the sprinklers, I haven't been able to do any finish work."
Balk-Stimpert said that if it hadn't been for the required sprinkler system, they probably would be open now.
But even though the costs and delays have been such that people of a lesser fortitude may have thrown in the towel, the Stimperts and Fulton really do see a bright future.
Both spaces are impressive. Through the scraps of lumber, dust, tools and painter's tape it is possible to envision what both Audiolab studios and VAC will look like finished. A supporting wall that cut VAC's space into two oddly shaped and useless halves was taken down and replaced by support beams that match existing ones. The ceiling had to be raised, and while that was a costly and laborious endeavor, it gives the space a very urban atmosphere and the sense that even if it is filled with 299 bodies, it won't feel claustrophobic. The Stimperts have planned a space for a large bar that wraps around a corner and a cool lounge area near the entrance. The men's and women's bathrooms are about five times the size of those at the old VAC, and a large room has been set aside for artists to store work in advance of an exhibit.
The Stimperts' personal work space at the new building—an office and conference room area—is also well-designed with pieces of art from local artists such as Ben Wilson and Sue Latta already gracing the walls. It's no surprise to see their work up at VAC not only because their exhibits were quite popular at the old location, but because supporting local artists will still be at the heart of VAC's mission. Fulton said that he, too, will display art by local artists in Audiolab's reception area.
The space dedicated to live performance is clearly an area of VAC to which the Stimperts have given a great deal of consideration. The stage is 400-square-feet and has a ramp at the back of it, making load-in and load-out much easier and quicker. A small area behind the stage and a relatively large green room will offer musicians and other performers a modicum privacy not always found in other gallery/performing arts venues. Another plus for musicians, Stimpert said, is with the help of Fulton, they plan to provide a live feed from the stage for studio-quality recording of live shows.
Ultimately, Balk-Stimpert says they have a well-defined list of objectives for what they want VAC to be and do: They want to offer a space for "mid-level bands that maybe don't like to play larger venues ... like Spoon and Modest Mouse," she said; they want to continue to promote local artists; they want VAC to become a center for arts education; they want to be the home of a non-profit theater group; and most of all, they want to be a hub for community involvement.
The construction fundraiser is set for Sunday, Dec. 9 at the Woman of Steel Gallery and will include silent auctions, refreshments, hors d'oeuvres and live music by Kris Doty. For more information, contact VAC at 208-424-8297. Visual Arts Collective, 3638 Osage St., Garden City, VisualArtsCollective.com.