What’s in a name? For a group of college kids 15 years ago, there was a lot riding on the name they chose for their new art space, Redux. From the Latin, reducere, the word means “brought back and restored”: the CofC art students wanted to revitalize what they saw as a stagnant contemporary art scene.
It started with a small, temporary space. “We were really active art students at CofC to begin with,” says Seth Gadsden, one of Redux’s founders. “In that big building next to the aquarium, where the Imax theater was, they had all these empty spaces and so they called the art department, and they gave us a space to run a gallery. We called it the Untitled Gallery.” Naysayers critiqued it right out of the gate.
“Whether you realize it or not, and regardless that you like it or not, by opening a gallery space you become part of a larger arts community. With that inclusion comes accountability. Don’t let your secondhand lack of respect for your own work, become a cancer on the innocent hardworking arts community,” wrote Dale Clifford, City Paper‘s art critic, of the gallery in May 2002.
Looking back now, Gadsden laughs at that first article, “It was literally the first time City Paper wrote about us. We printed it really big and put it up in the gallery. It was awesome.” Eventually, the Untitled Gallery was shut down, and the art students had a decision to make. “As a group we were like, ‘This can’t be the end, we want to keep this going.'” So they did.
The early aughts
Led by Bob Snead, and including Gadsden, Luke Vehorn, Krist Mills, Alyssa Millard, Bill Bolton, and others, Redux was founded in 2002. “We thought, ‘What’s the best way to pay rent?'” says Gadsden. “Studios. We were actively looking for a space and Bob, being the insane man that he is, went out on his own and found this space and signed a lease.” The space, Redux’s current location at 136 St. Philip St., was an old piano warehouse.
“We were all really young and green and idealistic. Had we known better we maybe would not have done what we did,” says Snead. In 2002 he was running Print Studio South, a small print shop, when he took the reins of the Redux project and, as he puts it “orchestrated a merge,” of the two entities. “Print Studio South was sort of at a point where a lot of people who had started it were ready to see it evolve,” he says.
Print Studio South allowed Redux to transform into what it is today by transferring its nonprofit status to the new organization. But, nonprofit status or not, the old warehouse still required a lot of work, and a lot of Snead’s credit card. “We would cycle it because the limit was only $5,000 so we had to spend $5,000 at a time as we built out the space. The first show we had we were definitely not finished with construction, but we had to swing open the door,” says Snead.
“We wanted a center where there could be massive collaboration. Our mission was always to bring in outside art. It was about bringing people in to have conversations about the outside world,” says Gadsden.
The college grads had lofty goals, ones that weren’t really met until after they left. “We showed our age as organizers,” says Snead. “We were just doing whatever the hell we wanted to. I think that kind of mentality, it does something for the spirit of an organization. But it has to change, inevitably, once the organization is kind of established and in locomotion.”
Snead and Gadsden both left their Redux passion project (none of the early founders were paid), for grad school in 2005. They sought out a new director, eventually landing on Kevin Hanley, who didn’t hold the position for very long. When he departed, Seth Curcio stepped up.
“Within a pretty quick amount of time there was a hiccup in leadership. Redux was at a crossroads after Bob left and then Kevin stepped down and I was young and naive enough to step in as interim director,” says Curcio. Curcio and his now wife, artist Julie Henson, were a few years behind Redux’s founders in school, and became involved with the organization as they got ready to graduate from college.
“I was a year out of undergrad,” says Curcio, reflecting on his time as the so-called interim director (Curcio would go on to lead Redux as executive director until 2008). “For me, I really had to draw on the community and work and make sure the exhibition space was robust. There was a lot of work to be done to get Redux to remain exciting as an arts space in Charleston, but also to develop a foundation, to build longevity.”
“Curcio was a lot more calculated and organized than we were,” says Snead. “It’s not overnight, and as college kids we definitely wanted it to go faster.” Snead and Gadsden left to pursue other goals and also, simply, because they were exhausted. It didn’t take long for Curcio to get to that point too.
“I was clocking 60 hour weeks, just to do everything I could to grow the organization,” he remembers.
In July of 2008 City Paper ran a cover story, “Fate of the Art,” with the subhead, “Its director quit, its lease is running out. Its curatorial vision is in doubt. What’s next for Redux and the future of contemporary fine art in Charleston.” Curcio had, in fact, just quit, and the building’s lease was running out. But he doesn’t remember his departure as quite so dire.
“That article was not at all in proportion to what was going on,” says Curcio. “Julie and I started at ages 21 and 23 and when were were ready to leave I was 27 … we spent our formative years at Redux and we shared as much as we could. We didn’t leave because it lacked anything, we had bigger ambitions. All nonprofits need to bring in fresh blood. Every five years nonprofit leadership typically changes over.”
Curcio’s leaving was the beginning of a lot of executive director changeovers starting with Karen Ann Meyers, who held the position until 2011. After Meyers followed Janie Askew and Stephanie Coakley before Stacy Huggins Geist took over in 2012.
“The idea of arts funding and having stable places for art in a space that is small and an economy that needs a lot of energy is still an important conversation,” says Henson. That the conversation continued beyond Curcio is, as Henson says, “a testament to the community and to the people who have been leading it since we left.”
That 2008 article listed a few issues with Curcio’s leadership: that Redux spent too much on education when other places were doing it better, that the board was ineffective (something that Curcio likely had little control over), and that the place failed to show enough local art.
The local art part was true — Curcio admitted that he didn’t show any local art between 2007-08. But that fact was part of the growing pains of Redux trying to find its identity. Was it a place for emerging artists, as that very first 2002 missive stated — or was it a studio for the finest contemporary art from the best artists, no matter their locale? The answer can probably be found in what Redux Studios is today.
The big move
“The work is never done. There’s always more to be done. It’s really wonderful work,” says Geist of her executive director position at Redux. Looking to the future, Geist is a big part of Redux’s move to 1056 King St., a move that more than doubles Redux’s square footage, with over 30 planned artist studios.
Geist and the Redux board started looking for new locations almost as soon as she became director, knowing that eventually they couldn’t afford St. Philip Street’s rent. During that search, Geist always sought out spaces that could best serve Redux’s artists and the Charleston community. “This new space, we’re not losing any elements of what we are,” she says.
“When I was doing commercial galleries and selling people artwork, that was awesome. But here, at Redux, we really are a family of blood, sweat, and tears. Very little of it is about me. It’s about serving your artists and making the most of a really valuable resource that we have with this physical space,” says Geist. Running a nonprofit is all about looking towards the future, as Snead and Gadsden, who run New Orleans’ Antenna and Columbia’s Indie Grits Festival, respectively, know all too well.
“Since we run arts organizations, we’re always looking towards the future,” says Gadsden. Along with other original artists Snead, Bill Bolton, Henson, Curcio, Dorothy Netherland, and Luke Vehorn, Gadsden are partaking in a group show which debuts Tues. March 14, from 7-9 p.m.
The show, deemed Founders’ Farewell or Mixed Bag officially, and Mixed Bag Clusterfuck, unofficially, will be created by past Redux artists, but the show is really about the organization’s future. “We definitely didn’t want it to be the thing where we showed up and hung all our own works on the wall. We wanted there to be some risk,” says Gadsden of the show.
“I’m so glad they’ll be here to toast this space that they did so much to — building the walls themselves. Everything’s been a mind-blowing exercise in fortitude and gumption and determination to make this organization last and serve,” says Geist. And the artists want the community to join in on their final farewell, inviting anyone to stop by during the day on Monday or Tuesday to help create; you’ll be given instructions to say, fill a block in with a certain color, or recreate one of your fondest memories.
“It’s big, it’s a charge, a calling,” says Geist. “We’ve got this space. Let’s make it freaking awesome, bring in community members, give artists a voice and opportunity. It’s constantly evolving, and, ultimately, returning to our mission and making sure we’re staying true to it.”
The public is welcome to join the artists to help create the show today (Mon. March 13)-Tues. March 14. The artists organizing the project will take part in a panel discussion at CofC from 5-6 p.m. on Tues. March 14. The opening reception will be held on Tues. March 14, 7-9 p.m. Musicians Bill Carson, Nic Jenkins, Ron Wiltrout, and Sam Sfirri will play, and food truck Rebel Taqueria will be on site.