Walking into artist Jerry Misko's tiny, stylized gallery in Downtown's new Emergency Arts, you'd never know that latex-gloved nurses once stitched wounds in the wee cube — now painted a deep aubergine and accented with a refurbished Jens Risom chair.
Mikel Patrick's paintings cover the walls in another exam room, and "minis" of those works are tucked into a darling chest of drawers. The electric lime-green and chocolate-brown walls of Empire Gallery are a better match with the stamped tin roof than thin medical gowns.
Gentrification may be a dirty word in some circles, but adaptive reuse is a favorite among preservationists — a building saved from vacancy or demolition is a victory — and what many perpetually long for is another reason to go Downtown. So those who turned out for the May 7 soft opening at Emergency Arts were, for the most part, happy with the new innards of the former Fremont Street Medical building, now a multiuse creative space.
"I love it," says Dee Dee Nave, trying on a feathered white vest at Flock, Flock, Flock, which specializes in vintage chic. "I was familiar with this place when it was JCPenney."
Down the hall, Justin McCroy, owner of Empire Gallery, exhibits an assortment of artwork by inkers from various tattoo parlors, most of whom aren't selling works, just displaying. McCroy's decision to lease a space was location-based: "I like the vibe of Fremont Street."
Jennifer and Michael Cornthwaite opened Emergency Arts as a way to diversify the entertainment district. Michael owns and operates the Downtown Cocktail Room; Jennifer ran the Henri and Odette Gallery on Sixth Street, which will eventually open in Emergency Arts, presenting four or five shows a year.
As with the nearby Arts Factory, not all tenants plan to keep doors open all the time. Misko says his space will be open by appointment only and for special events. But the Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum will open its mini- museum next month, and plans to keep regular hours. Simone Turner, who operates a teaching space for jewelry making and mosaic tile arts, says she'll be open in the evenings and weekends, but that right now her focus will be getting the coffee shop at Emergency Arts up and running.
Indeed, in a Downtown where dream projects have been hit or miss, the survival of Emergency Arts might depend to some degree on the success of that coffee shop, which opens later this month. Vintage tables and chairs are already in place so sippers can look out the picture windows at Sixth and Fremont Streets in the Downtown they love — and love to complain about.