Public Space One to relocate to ‘a home for possibilities’ in Iowa City’s Northside for fall 2019

The stained glass at 229 Gilbert St. — Rachel Wachter/Little Village

Public Space One (PS1), Iowa City’s “small a” art gallery, which also houses the Iowa City Press Co-op and the Center for Afrofuturist Studies, is officially a property owner as of Monday, Aug. 12, 2019, and is currently holding the keys to the organization’s own future.

Keys, as in multiple.

Formally approved at the Aug. 6 City of Iowa City Council meeting in a 7-0 vote, PS1 has made the purchase of two historical homes on Gilbert Street, in the heart of the Northside neighborhood, bringing it out of the basement (of the Wesley Center on Dubuque Street) and into the light. They close on the property next Monday, Aug. 12.

The homes, located at 225 and 229 Gilbert, cost a total of $475,355 for the pair. The price was made possible by help from the City of Iowa City, which allowed for a flexible credit to go towards down payments, renovation costs and other financial barriers that come with property ownership.

While both houses will be used for the community, the neighboring spaces will have different purposes. The Iowa City Press Co-op will utilize the space at 225, which will hold classrooms, a separate room for silkscreen and work spaces along with a retail space for artists. 229 will be a sprawling gallery and reception space, complete with an archive and reading room specifically for the Center for Afrofuturist Studies on the first level. Upstairs will hold four studio spaces, with the goal that three will be for rent with one reserved for the Center’s current resident. Studios will rent for under $300 monthly, and PS1 will continue to offer a wide range of classes open to the public.

Bay windows fill 229 Gilbert St with natural light. — Rachel Wachter/Little Village

This move will allow a “key to our own destiny and stability,” Kalmia Strong, PS1’s programming director, said. While she calls this move is a “leap of faith,” Strong also sees “so much positive energy behind this move.”

PS1 has also launched a Kickstarter campaign, A Home for Possibilities, to support renovation efforts. Community members and other supporters can donate in exchange for rewards ranging from participating in the space’s inaugural mail-in art exhibition, for $4 (works mailed in for this purpose will later be buried in a time capsule behind the houses), to a variety of original artwork and workshop opportunities.

Work already began this past weekend with cleaning in the spaces, beginning with 225, which was in great need of some TLC and elbow grease. PS1 Director John Engelbrecht, along with Strong and other PS1 board members and volunteers, donned masks and wielded rags, beginning to wipe down walls that were once white. The transformation of the space after just a preliminary wipe-down was apparent: 225 is going to be absolutely inspiring when it reaches completion.

“A Home for Possibilities”: the proposed floor plans of 225 and 229 Gilbert St. — Rachel Wachter/Little Village

The move-in date for the Printhouse (225) is set for a quickly approaching November, by which time PS1 hopes to have presses up and running in the new space. The task ahead will not be easy. ICPC plans to do “as much of the remodel as possible with their own hands and the help of volunteers,” Engelbrecht said, “with the exception of the more advanced work such as electrical and plumbing.”

The crew plans to remove walls and open the space to accommodate more printmakers. The new outdoor area will give a space to dive into other areas beyond printmaking, such as papermaking.

“Volunteers can come and just do what they can” during the remodel, Strong said, “from helping clean the space to the more specific areas of remodel.”

If you are interested in getting involved with PS1, you can email Help will be needed with moving into and getting set up in the new space, along with the renovation work.

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The gallery and studio space (229) is set to open in early October. In addition to the mail-in art exhibit, the concurrent first exhibition, opening Oct. 4, will show the works of Liz Munger.

Much less work is needed at 229 than 225. Windows that nearly go from the floor to the ceiling take up much of the wall space along the first floor. Charming glass-paneled French doors open up into what will become the visual arts gallery. A massive picture window is located in the center of the soon-to-be gallery, allowing a peak in from the front porch.

Following the original intricate hardwood flooring and crossing the hall to the old study reveals charm and comfort. This room will be the new archive and permanent space for the Center for Afrofuturist Studies. PS1 plans to display work of both current residents and alumni. The fireplace and wall-inset allow a natural warmth and inviting space.

229 Gilbert St features beautiful vintage light fixtures. — Rachel Wachter/Little Village

Up the winding staircase is what will be the studio wing. The four spaces line the hallway. Natural light streams in through windows and highlights the bare walls and fixtures. The art that will adorn the walls of 229 will be complemented by vintage light fixtures, handcrafted stained glass and decorations that will echo the past century.

Strong hopes that the space will feel inviting. “Anyone can join,” she said.

From curators to printmakers, all you need to become involved with PS1 is a creative mind. “Everyone knows DIY right? But DIT, Do It Together, learning together,” Strong said, is an idea that is shaping the mission of PS1. Someone can take a one-time workshop, such as the popular calligraphy class held this past winter, or they can move into an advanced workshop. If there is a staff member working in the shop, they can just stop in and learn something new. Printmaking, while very specific in some areas of the practice, also can be very flexible in aspects of technique.

Again, Strong points out, “We all learn together.”