The paint fumes hit quickly as I walk down the stairs to the Gallery Below. Robin Schneider, part of the gallery's four-person management team, shows me what will go where in the foyer/front office at 716B N. Weber St., including a small beer-and-wine bar — the selection to be gifted by Weber Street Liquor upstairs. In the gallery, the track lighting is up, and they're waiting for paint to dry. The gallery is a sizable room with no windows, but even now, it feels more like an arts space than a basement.
"Our time frame sucks," Schneider says. "I know we're going to make it. How much we make it, I don't know."
He's invited me to tour the unfinished space just under four weeks before the opening of Gallery Below's first show. After we've poked around the yet-unfinished space, we retreat upstairs to Pens & Needles Custom Tattoo to avoid the fumes. Pens & Needles' owner, Kristina Wright, also owns the Gallery Below. She's been trying to turn the space, formerly a storage area, into a gallery for nearly three years; only recently have things lined up to make it happen. Wright and Schneider will manage the space along with Amory Reed of Pens & Needles and artist Katherine "Kitty" Harris.
"[Pens & Needles is] a custom shop, so all of the artists are actually either home-taught, school-taught or really, really good at drawing, painting, doing art or sculpting," Wright says. "They do a lot of things that we've wanted to branch off for a while."
The gallery will host artists from around the region. The first show, opening Friday, Oct. 7, will be timely indeed. It's an exhibit of 13 photographs from the Haunted Mines attraction at the Western Museum of Mining and Industry, taken by Schneider and curated by Haunted Mines executive director Angel Minor Nuce. Schneider donated his photos to the volunteer actors at the Mines, and profits from the prints in this exhibit will go to the Haunted Mines nonprofit.