Not all big city art dealers are out to make a buck -- some are out to make a difference. At least that's what Bernice Steinbaum, owner of one of New York City's best known contemporary art galleries, hopes to do with the newly opened Here Here Gallery, a nonprofit venture on a mission for social change.
Steinbaum, who's been a commercial art dealer for 22 years, is focusing on the age-old plight of the homeless and their need for shelter in There but for the Grace of . . . Temporary Shelters -- an invitational, national exhibition and the first show at the Euclid Avenue gallery.
"The homeless are a reality, and I think we need to build the kind of shelters that allow people to heal themselves and do whatever it is to get themselves mainstream," says Steinbaum, who owns New York City's Steinbaum Krauss Gallery and has plans for another one in Miami. Indeed, homelessness is a problem in all big cities: This year alone, the Cleveland branch of United Way's First Call for Help has received nearly 10,000 requests for emergency shelter.
Housed in the former digs of the Cowell & Hubbard jewelry company at the corner of Euclid Avenue and East 13th Street, the 11,000-square-foot Here Here Gallery has marble floors and massive picture windows that gaze toward Star Plaza. "It's an incredible space, with 24-foot ceilings and a "Fred Astaire balcony,'" says Steinbaum, referring to the double-entry staircase centered in the back of the cavernous room.
The space was a gift from her friend, local attorney David Kirschenbaum, who owns the remaining five-year lease. "I thought it would make a wonderful nonprofit gallery, where this dealer could do things she couldn't do at her commercial gallery," says Steinbaum.
The Here Here Gallery will be dedicated to showing thought-provoking art and architecture that addresses American social issues. As the gallery's chief curator and owner, Steinbaum will organize one show per year, with three other exhibitions up for grabs for aspiring graduate students, who need only submit their proposals to the gallery's committee for consideration. "If [it] is something salient for the Cleveland community, they get the space for the next three months," says Steinbaum. "It would be a testing ground before they go out into the cruel world."
Her novel idea was embraced by a handful of backers who donated their time and money to help renovate the space and promote the first show. Among the high rollers is the Gund Foundation, which doled out $5,000 for 10,000 invitations.
On view through February 20, Temporary Shelters features 34 works by local and national artists, architects, and environmental urban planners. All pieces in the exhibition were created as social commentaries on poverty, the homeless, and their makeshift dwellings, says Steinbaum.
Cleveland Heights photographer Helen Liggett is one of 10 Ohio artists participating in the show. Her display, "Calendar of Events," is a series of 28 black-and-white photographs depicting a homeless man struggling to survive on East 18th Street and Euclid Avenue -- just two blocks from where Liggett's images are displayed. The photoessay evolved over a 10-month period in which Liggett photographed the man from the same spot every day, from March through December 1997. What she captured on film juxtaposes the man's need for shelter against a society oblivious to his plight.
"All these things are going on around him," explains Liggett. "People are making deliveries and riding bicycles, but I don't have a single image where there's anyone interacting with him. It's like there's a hole in the street. All the evidence shows we go out of our way to not see suffering in the city, to avoid the immediacy of it."
It's that suffering Steinbaum hopes to call attention to with the shows at Here Here. "We have to be aware of our communities," she urges. "Each of us must make an effort to make a difference."
-- Ginger Burnett
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