A downtown art pop-up proved the value of vacant space

The Living Room, a temporary experiment, is coming to a close Jan. 1. Can the model influence future spaces?

Roldan West's temporary studio at The Living Room — now the new Spaceboy location. (Photo by Holly Quinn)

For a prototype, The Living Room’s five-months of existence has been pretty productive – a live experiment using vacant space.

Located inside the former Jerry’s Art-o-Rama on Market Street in Wilmington, it’s the brainchild of Cultura founder Melissa Froemming, who worked out a deal with the Delaware College of Art and Design to utilize the empty storefront until it found a commercial tenant.

“There are DCAD dorms on the upper floors,” says Froemming, opening the doors to the eclectic space that encompasses what are essentially a duo of storefronts that made up Jerry’s, less than a block away from DCAD.

Her vision is equal parts third place, rec hall and interactive art gallery, featuring a mini coffee shop, a yoga/fitness studio and a kid’s corner.

She hadn’t worked out the details, but Froemming thought that some of the space near the back could be used for coworking, meetings or events.

You can still buy Jerry’s most popular student items there – basics like charcoals and drawing pads (the art store is still in business, having relocated to Newark). The front room is lined with bookshelves, rescued from the 9th Street Book Shop. Visitors could pick up a book and read it, borrow it, or buy it. The record collection worked the same way, thanks to a working record player in the corner.

The view through the front window at The Living Room

The view through the front window at The Living Room. (Photo by Holly Quinn)

But the Living Room is, essentially, a popup, and that means not forever. Froemming announced on December 13 that the communal space she’d cultivated would be closing by January 1 to make way for new commercial tenants.

“That was the deal,” she said. “They agreed to let me do this social experiment in the space until they could find a full-paying tenant. And, you, know, I’ve learned so much doing it.”

Although the space never got to the point of having regular operating hours, The Living Room has been a lived-in space over the past months. Artist Roldan West set up a mini studio in a front window for passers-by. Ellen Durkan of Iron Maiden Forge provided dynamic, sometimes live window dressing. There were the kid-friendly Drag Queen Story Hours featuring Miss Troy in the children’s area. It hosted an Art Loop event and served as a place for DCAD students to hang, use the free WhyFly and pick up supplies.

All of those things were Froemming’s wish-list items for the space, and they happened. But was it sustainable?

“I don’t think, the way we were doing it, it could have been self-sustaining if we had to pay the full rent,” admits Froemming. “Even if there was a membership fee, even if we sold the books and records.”

Essentially, the experiment gave her the freedom to not know exactly what this was going to be.

“Do we want to be a community service? A non-profit? A business? Those are the things I got to think about during this experiment,” she said.

In the end, it was a space that got to be something undefinable for a short period of time, that allowed everyone involved to experiment with new things, from business ideas to performance art.


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