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New Kids on the Block
The Co-Lab is hanging tough
Work from 'Mice to Milk,' opening March 11.

Since January, an ambitious group of young artists has created a new kind of space for art in Savannah. Part gallery, part studio, their goal is open up the art community through the spirit of collaboration. Fittingly, the new space is called the Co–Laboratory.

“At first it was ABC Gallery, and some other names, but the Co–Lab stuck because it’s a place of collaboration,” explains Minna Betancourt, one of the founders of the new space. “The Laboratory was because we are always experimenting and trying new things.”

The group, which includes Betancourt, a writer with an eye for fashion, along with visual artists Alex Farkas–Worthy, Zach Chambers and Clayton Walsh, began last year under humble auspices.

Farkas–Worthy had recently graduated SCAD, but hadn’t had a senior show exhibiting his work. Betancourt set out to arrange a show but ran up against obstacles ranging from the cost of some spaces, to waiting lists at more accessible locations.

A former student turned bartender at City Market landmark Belford’s, she asked her boss whether they could use the banquet space on a slow night to host an opening. It went well, and immediately generated a buzz.

“Five new artists came to me and said I want to do the same thing,” she explains. However, as the restaurant entered the busy season, it became harder and harder to book more shows. “The third show kept getting postponed. I was like forget it. I want my own space.”

A bit of research landed the group in a retail space on East Broad Street, near the corner of Hall, and although it was a challenge to get everything set up, the energy and word–of–mouth that made their shows at Belford’s a success has helped attract strong turn outs for their first two openings.

Betancourt attributes part of that success to their filling an unoccupied niche in Savannah’s art community, a place that will help emerging artists introduce themselves to the public, and potentially sell some work.

“People are always looking to sell their work, but they don’t know how, or they don’t have the means,” says Betancourt. “We’re just helping people sell their work.”

A comparable space open to exhibit work costs several times more than what the Co–Lab charges to be part of one of their group shows. By having lots of artists involved, Betancourt and her crew are able to keep their costs lower than other spaces.

The low cost, combined with the diverse array of artists and mediums, leads to group shows that sometimes feel like a collection of oddities – a sideshow attraction of art where a poignant photo hangs next to an irreverent illustration on a flap of cardboard, which in turn borders a portrait.

Although there is less refinement than more austere gallery spaces, that is compensated for by spontaneity of the work and the energy of a crowded reception. The Co–Lab is not just a gallery either.

“Back there is kind of cluttered because that’s all our supplies,” says Betancourt while giving the tour. The space also serves as a studio that keeps open hours and invites other artists to come in and work on new projects.

“Clay is working with one of the artists from our first show on paper–mache wrestlers,” she says, adding that it is the reason why there are scraps of newspaper stuck the floor. “The first one they’re working on is Stone Cold Steve Austin.”
“Are they life–sized?”

“No, Stone Cold Steve Austin is six foot something,” she replies, “They’re pretty big and they’re looking really awesome.”

It’s been all visual arts up to this point, but there are plans already in place to expand the repertoire of media they host, including three bands performing later this month, a jewelry showcase in April, and talk of hosting a film night.
“I don’t really know how this is all going as fast as it’s going. It all kind of happened,” she says. “I’d like for it to take off.”

Opening reception for “Mice to Milk”

When: Thursday, March 11 from 6–10 p.m.

Where: The Co–Lab, 631 E. Broad St.

Dress: They are asking everyone to wear white to the opening.