Redux Contemporary Art Center

Downtown. 136 St. Philip St. 722-0697

Six years ago, the space around the IMAX wasn’t the hip and happening trendplatz it is today. The Fountain Walk’s few stores were surrounded by empty rental space. When the College of Charleston Studio Art Department was approached to see if any students would be interested in drumming up work for a small gallery space there, students Bob Snead and Seth Gadsden stepped forward. They started organizing regular shows at Untitled Gallery and brought some much-needed attention to the waterfront area.

The two artists envisaged building a studio system where artists could rent workspaces and hold gallery shows. Their chance came in July 2002 when a just-graduated Snead got the director’s job at Print Studio South, an arts organization that specialized in educating artists and the public about fine art prints and printmaking techniques. The 11-year-old PSS was facing a rent increase, and Snead’s expansive plans seemed like a possible solution. No one realized how much work it would take to create a fully operational studio system.

“It ruined my senior year at college,” says Gadsden, who had a year to go at CofC when Snead graduated. “We borrowed money, used credit cards. We were all working for free. Putting it together took six months working all day, every day.”

By the end of 2002, Redux Studios had become a full 501(c)(3) organization offering 12 individual studios, exhibition spaces, and a frame shop. Then things got really tough for Redux’s young president and VP, Snead and Gadsden.

“We were good for starting that kind of place but didn’t necessarily have the skills to take it to the next level,” Gadsden says. “It was slow in there for a while. We didn’t have the budget to do much.” However, within a year Redux had rechristened itself as a Contemporary Art Center, absorbing Print Studio South and mounting shows like CofC instructor and sculptress Loren Schwerd’s compelling Flock installation.

“Before Bob came along with some big ideas, PSS just did a few shows and had a tiny gallery,” says Gadsden, who notes that some original board members drifted away after a while. “As time went on, we were having to constantly do fundraisers, there were a lot of responsibilities, and it was just really boring [for them]. We basically did everything.”

That caused a problem when Snead and Gadsden both secured places in grad school, at Yale and Boston University, respectively. At the same time, Studio Technician Krist Mills was also moving on. They knew they had to find a new director fast — and Kevin Hanley, founder of the Chord & Pedal collective, was the best available candidate for the job. He took over in March 2005, professing a desire to increase Redux’s accessibility and use it as a venue for live bands.

“I was sure that the organization would crash and burn,” says Snead, who describes his departure from Redux as a fraught divorce. “I wanted to believe that I was irreplaceable, that things wouldn’t be the same without me. And things weren’t the same … they were better in many ways.”

Hanley’s Alive Inside show, with a performance tie-in event at the Music Farm, was the most successful indicator of the director’s plans for the Center — stronger ties with the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, CofC, and music venues. The multimedia, Japanese-themed Sawaguzo! included film nights, hinting at the increased links with the local film community that were to come.

Despite a few successful, high-profile shows, the strain of being full-time executive director of a nonprofit organization like Redux didn’t suit Hanley.

“I thought it would drown,” says Gadsden. “At many a point I expected it to fail when I went to grad school. I don’t think Kevin had enough experience as far as running an art center was concerned. It takes a whole lot. You have to be a rock.” Unable to see eye-to-eye with board members, Hanley resigned after only eight months in charge.

In stepped Seth Curcio, the Center’s current director. “Because he’s the guy who does everything, the Center takes on the characteristics of the director,” says Gadsden. “Seth’s really into graffiti and street art, so there are more of those shows now.” Curcio’s also increased the education quotient, with more lectures, workshops, and documentary screenings. This comes partly as a result of Redux’s sheer survival — corporate sponsors and granting organizations are starting to take the Center more seriously now that it has a proven track record of training and exhibiting.

Snead recalls the energy and enthusiasm of artists, volunteers, patrons, and friends. “What I have learned from Redux is that it may be led by one individual who expends endless amounts of energy and time to see that it succeeds, but it is nonetheless held up by many.”

According to Seth Curcio, another factor has been integral to the Center: “Everyone pays their rent on time. Without our studio program, we wouldn’t exist.”

Curcio has big plans for Redux’s fifth anniversary later this fall, with celebratory events along with new collaborative, education-based programs. When Gadsden returns for a fresh show next year, he hopes that the Center won’t be so dependent on its director. “I’d like to see it become an institution. One day I’d like to walk in and I won’t recognize anyone, and they won’t recognize me.”

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