If you've driven through Avondale any time within the past five years, chances are you've noticed the Junk & Jive. The pink sign was an eye-catcher, but the real draw was the massive storefront window filled with random retro goodies — a 1950s table and chairs set, bright red gogo boots, a hideous avocado-green patterned lamp. If you peered through the windows, you could see what looked like miles of more weird finds, mostly furniture, with some kooky art thrown into the mix.
The tantalizing thing was that the place was never open. You could window-shop as long as you wanted, but if you saw something you actually liked in there, you were out of luck. And that's why it was a bit of a relief when the Junk & Jive, after sporting a "For Lease" sign for months, was finally cleaned out early this year to make way for the new tenant, the 827.
Best described as a collective, the 827 is the latest experiment in arts and community by Rebekah Kiser, the brains behind the Gadsden Funeral Home. The Gadsden was a short-lived art studio/gallery/creative hub on St. Philip Street that Kiser began in 2012; the project was shuttered that fall when she and her team were unable to secure a long-term lease. Undeterred by the setback, Kiser went looking for another space in which to fulfill her dream of an arts collective, and she signed a lease for the Junk & Jive with owner Michael Rabin in October of last year. Because the store hadn't been cleaned out, she wasn't able to move into the space until February. (In fact, helping to move some of that old stuff out of the building was part of the terms of the lease.) Since then, Kiser and those she's brought on board to help run the 827 — artistic director Tina McCard and general manager John Garcia — have been locked in a waiting game, trying to obtain the necessary permits to begin renovating the space.
"It's taken longer, and it costs a lot more than I thought it would, but we're getting there," Kiser says. "Once the fire marshal gives us the OK, then we can pull the permits. Neil Stevenson, our architect, is working with us so we'll be there soon."
What "there" will mean isn't completely clear yet. Though this space is quite different from the Gadsden in important ways — for one thing, the 827 has electricity throughout, an HVAC system, no ghosts or animal carcasses hidden away, and no apparent structural decay — one of the biggest things Kiser's two endeavors have in common is ambition. The Gadsden was aimed at being a place where artists could live and work, as well as a gallery and space for Charleston's artistic types to congregate. It was, for a time, a center for the city's underground arts movement.
With the 827, Kiser has expanded that mission even more. "This is quite a different venture from the Gadsden," Kiser says. "It's the next chapter of what I was working toward developing, which I was actually exploring with my first gallery, Blue Ness Studios. The Gadsden was another area where I learned more about what I wanted to provide in an art studio in Charleston. This is more than just a gallery — this is a center for development for creative professionals and artists who are wanting to become creative professionals, and also musicians, and we're also integrating science into the program."
That's a tall order for any organization, but Kiser and general manager McCard sound confident that they'll be able to fulfill it. One way they're doing that is by offering classes on everything from still-life painting to creating a business plan to making your car run more efficiently. They plan on tapping local artists and professionals to teach the classes. So far, artist Andrew Dyck, who was also involved in the Gadsden, has taught several painting workshops in the 827's small gallery space, which is already up and running.
The reason that Kiser has decided to integrate science into the 827 is because she believes scientists and artists have a lot to offer each other. "There are so many awesome artists here in Charleston, and we want to make sure that there's a place where there's some cross-pollination between their ideas," she says. "Artists can learn a lot from the sciences. For example, Andrew [Dyck] uses a computer and technology as a guide. That's an example of how technology is used in the creative arts."
McCard chimes in too. "Music as well, there's a science to it, and when you're grinding [oil] paints and you have to use the pigments and the linseed oil, there's a process. That's a good way to introduce it and actually make learning science more desirable, even for kids."
The 827 has begun reaching out to other arts and music organizations too, McCard says. "We're working on creating classes for the Yo Arts project, to expand their project, teach the kids AutoCAD [3-D modeling software] and editing." They also plan on partnering with Carolina Studios to offer recording and music classes for children. One of the items on their very long to-do list is to convert one of the small artist studios that connect the gallery to the Junk & Jive space into a recording studio. “We’re all about collaboration and working with other businesses and nonprofits, whether it be theater or film festivals or music, art,” McCard says. “We’re just providing a platform for all types of art. We will not limit ourselves.” And they really mean that — the 827 intends to host concerts, open mic nights, comedy shows, and even theater performances.
But all of those things are still in the works. It’s easy to imagine that it could be many months before the 827 is running on as many cylinders as Kiser and McCard envision, especially since up until now Kiser has been financing the operation herself. They’re launching a Kickstarter campaign in July to help raise funds for the construction, and are working on getting 501(c)(3) status (the 827 is currently an LLC under Kiser’s Blue Ness Studios). In the meantime, however, McCard says they are working with a group that will process donations for them so that all donations will still be tax-deductible.
And while the music, science, theater, and other endeavors have yet to take solid form, the 827 has several tangible accomplishments to be proud of. They’ve filled their gallery with jewelry by local artists, Artisan Tees T-shirts for sale, woodwork, and art by Andrew Dyck and the Pretty Girls Collective. The 827 hosted a show by Pretty Girls, a Columbia-based group of artists on June 15 and by all accounts, the event — which featured music, film, comedy, and dance in addition to art — was quite the success, with the party raging on late into the night.
Their next event is Binge/Purge, a show by Dyck on July 13. It’ll be Dyck’s last show before he moves to Brooklyn in August, and guests will be able to see and buy works he’s created over the past 10 years. Dyck also painted a mural along one wall of the Junk & Jive space, and although the 827 isn’t allowed to have people inside, Kiser plans on lighting the mural so that it will be visible from the street. In addition to art shows, the 827 is hosting a weekly comedy open mic night on Thursdays.
So while it remains to be seen how many of the Avondale arts collective’s goals will come to fruition, and how those goals will change and grow in the process, it’s clear that the 827 is making steady forward progress. And Kiser, McCard, and Garcia are committed enough to the group’s lofty ideas to hang in there as long as it takes. “It’s a lot of sacrifices,” McCard says. “It’s a huge endeavor and a lot of people get confused — they’re like ‘Why are they doing this and this and this?’ and I’m like, ‘Why would we limit ourselves?’ I mean, if you place a limit on things then you’re never going to accomplish anything.”
Kiser agrees. “I’ve heard a lot of people in their retirement phase, say, ‘I wish I wouldn’t have been behind a desk doing that work I didn’t want to do — I wish I’d been doing that thing that I wanted to do,’ and it’s never too late to start. That’s why I want this to be a place for kids and a place for adults and people of any age, anybody that has something that they haven’t fully explored or haven’t even started to explore. We like to see people realize their dreams, and this is a place for that to occur.”