Florida Keys News
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Big move for The Studios includes curtain call
Arts nonprofit reopens this winter on Eaton Street

Sculptor Lauren McAloon's day job for seven years has been a behind-the-scenes job as facilities director for The Studios of Key West.

She hangs shows for other artists and takes care of critical details such as setting up chairs for the audience. And after events at the nonprofit's home, the old Armory at 600 White St., McAloon has chair-stacking duty, returning them to the sidelines in columns of 12.

"I like the chairs; it's got a start and an end," McAloon said Tuesday afternoon as she surveyed the armory's first floor hall.

The Studios is counting down its final days of working out of the armory before its big move to the three-story art deco complex at 533 Eaton St.

On Thursday, the nonprofit will unveil its last two shows at the address, and its last time participating in "Walk on White" on White Street.

Staff will work out of temporary space at The Studios-owned artist residences located outside the armory while reconstruction of the Eaton Street building, for years the home of the Florida Keys' Masons, continues.

The Studios as a location won't reopen until the winter, but directors say they will host plenty of art events during the interim.

"Through partnerships and off-site events we're going to stay pretty active until we have the new building," said Elena Devers, deputy director of The Studios. "We're going to keep engaging in things off site."

But The Studios isn't leaving the armory without putting on a grand finale: "Mango Madness and Member Summer Salon" opens at 6 p.m. Thursday, along with McAloon's show, "Now Then There."

The main, first-floor hall will present a show and sale of works by about 60 local artists who are members of The Studios. Both exhibitions will run through July 11.

The evening is also a celebration of all things mango with a mango cooking contest judged by City Commissioner Jimmy Weekly and business owner Richard Tallmadge, a mango fashion contest and the serving of various mango drinks. It's also a night to mark McAloon's first solo show.

"Ever," she said Tuesday, as she carefully put the finishing touches on hanging her own work in the upstairs gallery space, including reinventions of installations that have appeared before in Key West, such as "Threshold," a contemplation of the Cuban migration experience via handmade boats known as chugs.

Tall, dark bamboo poles greet visitors to the upstairs gallery. McAloon cut holes in each to make them into pipes. By Thursday, the three-dimensional piece will be complete with six rudders preserved from Cuban chugs that landed in Key West.

"I have 11 of them," McAloon said of the rudders, which park rangers and locals collected from the shores of the Dry Tortugas years ago. "I'm their caretaker. They're handmade. The energy in them is incredible."

"Threshold" speaks to the perilous journey across the Florida Straits from Cuba to the tips of America, she said, but also honors the personal decision that she tries to imagine.

"It's amazing to me people make that decision to come over that threshold and leave behind so much," McAloon said.

Her newer works are down the hall, in a side room. They're smaller pieces, a collection she calls "Vessels."

McAloon has also included a piece once called "Focus," but retitled "Refocus" for Thursday's show: 13 window-type frames of metal hang from the ceiling. Each panel holds clear glass balls, affixed to circles of iron she calls "crosshairs."

The installation originally held images of people affected by the number of wars over the years, a child left behind or a wife. The viewer peers into the glass balls to see the images.

"Refocus," however, honors people affected by the many murderous shooting rampages in 2014.

"It's only 2014," McAloon said. "Not the victims, this time it's the people surviving them. Their whole lives have been changed."

McAloon proposed the show to The Studios' directors as one of the last armory exhibitions and wanted the upstairs space, essentially a white-walled, hardwood floor hallway much smaller than the sprawling downstairs gallery.

"I love this space," McAloon said.

Devers said its a fitting tribute to honor McAloon's work, along with that of other local artists who are members of The Studios.

"McAloon herself has helped realize the vision of hundreds of exhibiting artists over the past seven years," Devers said.

On view through July 11, a "boot camp" painting class had just ended. Rows of tables, all coated with dried paint splotches were waiting for her to put away -- along with those trusty beige-upholstered metal chairs that have witnessed a performance of the musical Hedwig and poet Billy Collins.

And that was only this past year.

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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