The space is enormous and open. Light streams in from the large windows. There’s very little to see apart from some chairs and a few lost Christmas ornaments. And yet from the door, C.M. Ruiz is hard to spot at first, against the drywall he’s sanding on a bright Friday morning in a former auto-row building in Wallingford. The artist-designer-curator—known for his (often Xeroxed) posters, record covers, zines and designs and creation-curation of the pop-up art show Brainfreeze—greets me from a cloud of settling dust particles, then immediately sets out on a quest for coffee.
Understandably so. There’s lots of work ahead. Ruiz only has a week left to finish and sand the drywall, paint the interior, rub the floor and give the exterior a coat of bright pink paint. “It needs to be a bright spot,” he says. This Friday, Dec. 15, the building will (re)open as pop-up gallery space Nii Modo with a duo show by local artists Robin Edwards (aka Lisa Prank) and Bree McKenna (of Tacocat) called Hobby Rockers.
“This is not, like, a super rigid, serious space,” Ruiz says languidly when we sit down to talk. “Nii Modo is a Spanish saying. It translates roughly as shit happens or c’est la vie. Something happens? You just roll with it. Which is like a lot of the projects I’ve worked on.”
Ruiz rolled with it when, about a year-and-a-half ago, a fire marshal deemed the 130-year old Seven Seas building, famous for its now-defunct adult theatre the Lusty Lady, unsafe, leaving the Punk Rock Flea Market, which Ruiz helps organize, temporarily homeless. So they found a new space—the former Value Village on Capitol Hill—to house the market instead.
Now, thanks to Revolve, the redevelopment company turning the Seven Seas building into a boutique hotel, Ruiz’s original plan to activate an empty building will still come to fruition. “Revolve will start demolishing this space when they finish the Lusty Lady building,” says Ruiz. “They let me use the Wallingford building as an art space until then. Instead of sitting here unoccupied, like so many other vacant buildings waiting to be developed, they want it to be used for the local art community.”
Ruiz’s guesstimate is that they can stay there for about a year. Which leaves him enough time to turn it into a community art space and gallery that focuses on work from women, POC and first-time exhibitors.
“Because commercial real estate is expensive, many galleries have to sell work that is expensive to make ends meet,” he explains. “There’s not a lot of room for an untested artist to have a show despite how good their work is. I don’t have to pay a lot of rent, just cover cost and insurance, which means I can focus on first-time exhibitors. This can be a place where people can start their artist CVs.”
It’ll also be a place for first-time exhibitors and young artists to sell their work at price points of their own choosing. A small extra percentage will cover the costs of the space and go to the local nonprofit Low Income Housing Institute. “The goal for Nii Modo is to pay for itself. I’d like it to be zero impact,” Ruiz says.
Nii Modo will also donate space for nonprofits to organize workshops, such as tech classes for low-income high school students. Additionally, Ruiz is hoping to create studio spaces for artists to borrow and has been on a shopping spree to furnish the place with projectors, tools, lights and chairs for people to borrow as well. “I used to do showcases for SXSW,” he explains. “There’s always something you need last minute — a projector or an extension cord. I am hoping Nii Modo becomes a spot that artists can hit up for this kind of thing first. So that it’s not only a physical location, but a resource for the community.”
Nii Modo opens Friday, Dec. 15. More info on upcoming shows on Nii Modo’s Facebook page.