The chasm between Downtown Project and some of the Downtown community (that believes it has been steamrolled by DTP) has not exactly been a secret around town. So with DTP’s Container Park set to open this fall, team members made a grand gesture and reached out to an Arts District linchpin—who happened to be a fairly vocal critic of Zappos and DTP.
And Gina Quaranto said yes. The owner of Commerce Street's Blackbird Studios has agreed to launch a satellite gallery in the Container Park, opening this fall, where she will help organize art education programs in its neighboring Learning Center and work as a liaison between Downtown Project and the community.
“The general consensus down here is that Zappos came to town saying they’re going to build a community, bypassing the community that’s already here,” Quaranto says, adding that she knows critics, including her own friends, will feast on her decision and call her a “turncoat.” “But how can we change anything from the outside? If they’re willing to bridge the gap, how could I say no?” Quaranto says. “Our huge complaint has been that they’re alienating the locals who were already here. If we bring a little bit of this over there, it’s better for all of us.”
Quaranto, an artist who began showing works at First Friday in its early days, opened Blackbird Studios in 2010 after a transformer explosion on Main Street caused her to close Place Gallery, which she opened in the fall of 2009. She’s been an outspoken advocate for arts and culture in the community, whether it’s giving new artists their first gallery show at Blackbird, representing the Arts District (and the arts) at Downtown and City Council meetings or volunteering at Tiffany’s Café when White Cross Drugs closed.
First Fridays at Blackbird Studios took a hit in attendance when the event's new owners ramped up the festival atmosphere, crowding out those who'd long attended the First Friday art walk, but Quaranto has continued programming group and solo shows in Blackbird's main space. Having tenants in the studios at Blackbird allows her to take risks with exhibits and not rely on sales to stay open. She plans to continue operating Blackbird Studios on Commerce Street and says some of the Blackbird artists will be represented at the Container Park, which she considers to be more of a pop-up space.
Jamie Naughton, Zappos’ speaker of the house who works with Downtown Project, says reaching out to Quaranto is one of many steps DTP is taking to involve the community. “She’s community-focused and well-known Downtown and can help us reach out," Naughton says. "Our intention is to involve the community as much as possible."