For a while now, people in the know have been talking about Portland.
It’s going to be huge.
It’s the next NuLu.
Buy a house in Portland, it’s the next big thing.
Until now there wasn’t really anything to point to, no proof of concept. No shining gem.
The new Tim Faulkner Gallery is here to change that.
More than 26,000 square feet of artists’ studios, gallery space, a whopping 2,500-person capacity mixed-use venue for music, theater, performance art, experimental film, vintage cartoons, silent movies, and who knows what else. There will be a full bar, and a coffee shop when work is finished. There is a nice smooth exterior wall dedicated to graffiti.
After one visit the place completely captured my imagination. Portland champion Gill Holland is used to that response. In a recent email conversation he told Insider Louisville, “It is often when the visitor steps foot into The Tim Faulkner Gallery that they ‘get’ our vision for a vibrant historic Portland for the 21st century.”
I sure got it when I stepped inside the first time. I was so blown away I went back last weekend for the gallery’s open house. Faulkner and art/business partner Margaret Archambault gave me an extensive tour, while we talked about the gallery’s past, and future.
First, the past. When Tim Faulkner announced he was closing the doors of his Butchertown gallery, it raised a few eyebrows. The venture seemed ambitious when it opened and enjoyed a modicum of success, hosting interesting events, great artists, and fledgling theater companies. It was a bubbling cauldron of creativity.
Insiders wondered what the closure meant for the Butchertown neighborhood, as well as the possibility that perhaps the gallery/studio space/collective/music venue wasn’t thriving, despite outside appearances.
The gallery was doing fine, but only at the cost of constant aggravation. In the end it was all about access, zoning and the neighborhood.
Some of the neighbors didn’t like loud music and increased traffic. The city didn’t like graffiti on the flood wall. Zoning issues limited the types of events that could be offered.
It was a zoning issue that led Faulkner to seek some help from Holland. Faulkner was hoping a few words from the popular developer and NuLu visionary might help get a certain permit he was after.
“I went to Gill and asked, can you help me out,” said Faulkner. In response, Holland acquiesced but countered Faulkner by asking, “Wouldn’t it be nice not to have these problems?” Faulkner recalls.
Holland was an early champion of the Portland neighborhood, and his influence has gone a long way to drawing talk and attention past 15th street.
Holland knew getting Faulkner interested in Portland was important.
“Tim has been doing cool things with cool artists and bands for a while, and we are sure Tim’s stable of artists and coterie of collectors will have a super positive trickle up effect,” said Holland.
Holland introduced Faulkner and Archambault to Matt Gilles of Shine Contracting who owns several buildings in Portland. Faulkner was first tempted with a space that was later claimed by The Louisville Film Society. It was a great building, but it didn’t fit the needs or the vision of Faulkner and Archambault. The artists weren’t going to move to just any space.
“We said, ‘We’ll come this way, but this is what we need,” said Archambault.
A huge part of what they needed was cooperation from the city, which Faulkner says the new gallery absolutely has: “The city is behind it.”
All those issues with zoning, permits and access melted away, and the nearest house (and potential complaining neighbor) is several blocks removed.
Another huge part of the puzzle is the involvement of Shine Contracting. They are handling the major renovations, and putting in apartments for Faulkner and Archambault. The apartments were an important amenity in Butchertown that the duo wanted to keep.
“When you live in the space, you are always working, even when you are not,” said Faulkner.
The sheer scale of the renovations lets a visitor know right away that this gallery is going to be a centerpiece for the Portland neighborhood. Plenty of artists dream of the amazing things they can do with a big empty warehouse, but few of them manage to put together a team that can make those dreams a reality.
Faulkner spreads the credit around to Matt Gilles, Shine Contracting, architect Jeff Pickett, and of course, Holland. In addition, Archambault sings the praises of the many local artists who have already contributed to the space, such as painter Damon Thompson and sculptor Patrick White, among others.
Although the space is still a work in progress, Faulkner, Archambault and the eight artists who came with them from Butchertown moved in on Feb. 1.
Artists, there is still one studio available for rent.
The 5,000-square-foot gallery space opened its first show on Feb. 28. The renovation kept the bare brick walls and rugged wooden support beams but refinished the floor and replaced the fluorescents with softer lighting to create one of the warmest and most visually appealing galleries in Louisville.
The larger event space will host it’s first show on May 31. The Mutts and Dirty Grindstone inaugurate the new room. The Mutts will be featured on WFPK’s Live Lunch the same day. Faulkner says the Chicago band is “on the verge of really making it.”
Faulkner and Archambault have big plans for the big room. In addition to being an ideal spot for up and coming bands to get familiar with Louisville audiences, the room will be used by theater groups such as Acting Against Cancer and Marrow Street Theatre. Two drop-down digital projectors can turn the venue into a movie theater. It will be rented for events, and Holland says it will be the location for “some of the best parties in Louisville.”
The space is already 60 percent full for the coming year.
“People are jumping on us to book events,” Archambault said. “I expect the remaining 40 percent will disappear quickly as people get their first glimpse of the space, and get their minds blown the way I did.”