fort gondo compound for the arts
Address: 3151 Cherokee Street St. Louis, MO 63118
Open Hours: Thursdays – Saturdays, 12-4 PM and by appointment.
How is the project operated?
As of Spring of 2013, we are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
How long has it been in existence?
fort gondo realized its first exhibition in 2002 and has been running off of febrile willpower and ingenuity since.
What was your motivation?
An empty storefront space and the fortuitous energetic zeal of Galen Gondolfi, Bevin Fahey-Vornberg and Mike Schuh. Community-building was the primary impetus; art was collateral damage.
Number of organizers/responsible persons of the project.
fort gondo exercised a fairly rigorous open-door policy (literally) for the majority of its past – meaning, there have been countless organizers and semi-responsible parties involved. At the end of the day, fort gondo is Galen Gondolfi’s home – now shared by his wife, Jessica Baran, and their four dogs. The space’s recent shift to formal nonprofit status has resulted in a board and assorted accusations of “director” and “curator” among its newly established “leadership.”
(For further clarification on this question, see the excellent Temporary Art Review piece: “The Godfather of Cherokee”).
How are programs funded?
The economy of generosity and a Schlafly sponsorship. We are currently in pursuit of grant funding, additional sponsorships and other traditional forms of financial support.
Who is responsible for the programming?
Answer # 4 essentially addresses this question. As the space evolves, we hope to collaborate with guest curators, artist-curators and other organizations/spaces while continuing our focus on intimate, artist-driven projects.
Number and average duration of exhibitions/events per year.
Another fact in flux: fort gondo has hosted several hundred exhibitions and events over the past 10 years that have varied in length from several minutes to beyond a month. In the future, we hope to minimize this figure and standardize durations to allow for more deliberative time and complexity of programming, however that might be manifested.
What kind of events are usually organized?
“Usual” would be a misleading way to describe anything that’s happened at fort gondo. Exhibitions of visual art, though, have been its most common type of program, alongside performances and readings.
How is your programming determined?
As fort gondo is also Galen Gondolfi and Jessica Baran’s home, programming is necessarily intimate in scale and definition. We work very closely with the artists, poets, neighbors, performers, priests, politicians, junk barterers and sundry other practitioners the space has been temporary host to, and so a desire on both participant’s part to be subject to such a boundary-free exchange is necessary. That said, we do like to exploit the potential of inhibiting factors like margins, peripheries, micro-economies and otherwise suppressed narratives; we also like hard-wood, crown molding, peeling wallpaper, exposed brick, and most all unvarnished marks of the hand (barring complete property destruction). How these aspects play out in terms of our aesthetic mission has yet to be specifically codified.
Do you accept proposals/submissions?
Not currently, though they’re not aggressively frowned upon.
What is your artistic/curatorial approach?
Dialogic and non-bureaucratic. Flagrantly idiosyncratic and preferably collaborative. The poetry series, for instance, is co-curated by poets Jennifer Kronovet and Jessica Baran – which has been an invaluable opportunity for friendship and conversation. Generally, we’re always open to new ideas that take us out of our familiar patterns of conduct and thinking.
What’s working? What’s not working?
We’re eager to shift away from our old pro-debt-incurring operating model and gain more financial flexibility – though we’ll forever subsist on kindness, thrift and a fundamentally DIY ethos. We’re also interested in breaking-up and re-integrating our current, traditional programming model of exhibitions/poetry readings/events/publications – i.e. removing the slashes, mixing it all up, opening the doors wider. Thinking more about the role of language in art-making is another area for further focus, as it’s one we like and feel mildly qualified to address.
Otherwise, many, many things don’t work on a regular basis – from old Volvos to antique fans to grand creative ideals (like most articulated here); that said, we’d like to think that fort gondo is one of the few places where you’re permitted to fail, and that failure can be seen as a kind of productive strategy.
What kind of role do you hope to play in your local art scene or community?
More than anything else, fort gondo was always intended to be a catalyst for positive community change. What this means requires a longer explanation than is appropriate for this q & a, but can perhaps be briefly summarized by what it’s not. It does not mean that fort gondo is a space purely devoted to what is now popularly termed discursive or “social-practice” oriented approaches art. We like objects, and the reverie mute things produce, which we feel has great human value. It also does not mean that we believe that the arrival of an art space in a struggling neighborhood is an implicit mark of “improvement.” We understand how our position could make us a part of certain negative developments. To borrow from the model of Justine Petersen – a Missouri social worker who is the namesake for the nonprofit micro-lending organization Galen has spend the past 12 years working for – we’d like to enable and empower those who may be outside of mainstream systems through small gestures of opportunity. Small “loans” of space to the space-less, platforms to the platform-less. Attentiveness where previously there was dismissiveness. We’d also like to turn the hierarchical pyramid upside down and place ourselves last, rather than first – and think of points of exchange based on considered language rather than commerce or property. All of the broad-stroke community motivations also address how we think of our position in St. Louis’ art community.
What idea are you most excited about for the future?
Something a colleague said to me about the idea that history is shaped by anonymous people. This is true and astonishing and reminded me of Keats’ tombstone (“Here Lies One Whose Name is Write in Water”) and her of Duchamps’ (“Always, It’s Others Who Die”). While hardly news flashes, they’re exciting nuances of the past to reconsider. And examining more closely what is too often taken for granted seems like a kind of public service, and also not unlike poetry.