By Heather MacRae
SAVANNAH IS one of the few towns I have ever known that has these little exhibition spaces that pop up here and there, each with its own take on how to show work and how to pull people in.
One new space that has really held some fantastic shows lately is a little space called Chapel Gallery sits tucked away off Harmon between 39th and 38th streets.
Director Olivia Tiberio took a moment to answer a few questions about the space.
What is your background?
I moved to Savannah from NC in 2009 to attend SCAD, and it has been my home since. My own work consists mostly of figurative drawings and paintings, with a few memorable detours into performance art. When I decided I wanted to pursue teaching I returned to the MFA painting program and graduated in 2020.
How do you feel your background influences the space?
I think living in Savannah for the last decade has given me a sense of how things work here. The city rides a funny line of historic vs. transitional college town; I have seen a lot of people, projects and businesses come and go in a relatively short amount of time. I feel like I’ve lived several lives in Savannah myself.
Despite all the city’s shifting around, it seems to carry a consistent “vibe,” and that’s what I’m trying to respond to through the gallery. It should fit in organically; the only way it will stick around is if it feels like it was here all along.
Where is Chapel located for those who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting yet, and is there any special connection to that area?
Chapel only exists within the context of Domestic Archive, the project of dear friends Alycia Linke and Amiel Tomlin. They rented the space on Harmon St. to operate as the brick-and-mortar location for their business. They curate and restore 20th century furniture and objects. Alycia and Amiel are still primarily based in Atlanta, so D.A. is currently open by appointment and by occasion.
How long have Chapel’s doors been open and how did the idea for the space come to fruition?
As I prepared for my own thesis exhibition in 2020, I found I was unsatisfied with the existing options for a location. Several small galleries have closed for mostly real estate related reasons in the last few years, and the remaining few were either prohibitively expensive or offered some architectural quirk to contend with. There wasn’t really a good little white box for a cozy show.
I decided it was time to stop waiting for someone to open the gallery I want, and just make it myself. COVID threw a wrench into my original plan. It was serendipitous that my friends decided to rent the space and loop me in. Fixing up the interior ourselves made a good outlet for restless quarantine energy. The first show was my own thesis exhibition in February of 2021.
How many shows have you had and highlights of the exhibitions thus far?
We have hosted 8 shows this year, some of which were senior and thesis exhibitions, and a couple of group shows. The group show in May, "Where Everybody Knows Your Name," featured a roster of beloved local bartenders and a few of their regulars, and it really exceeded my expectations in terms of turnout and sales. It was heartening to see that if you build it, they indeed will come, and really satisfying to get to write my artist friends a check at the end of the show.
What's your vision for the space and future hopes/intentions of the space?
I want the gallery to be an accessible and comfortable place for artists to show their work in a professional setting, but still maintain the levity of a DIY spirit. The operation is artist-run and artist-forward. I hope to continue to be able to rent the space out at a competitive weekly rate and offer a generous commission rate for curated shows (20%).
The proliferation of virtual exhibitions during the pandemic makes perfect sense, and I'm grateful for the technology, but they fail to replicate the vital communal experience of gathering in a physical space to look at the work, the conversations that ensue, et cetera.
Do you have a hope for the space in the way of contribution to the overall community of the arts in Savannah?
The arts community in Savannah is lively but none of the galleries are really in competition; the more the merrier at this point. I hope Chapel is able to fill a niche, to provide exhibition opportunities for emerging and established artists alike. It's a little empty space ready to be transformed.
What do you love about the space?
I couldn't have anticipated how much I have loved providing a space for young artists to put their work on display, and being present to witness their friends, family and professors gathering to support them. That's what it's all about. I don't think I've made a single dollar from this "business" venture, but hearing an undergraduate senior say "that was the best night of my life!" makes it totally worth the effort. Whether they like to admit it or not, artists make work to be seen (and ideally, to sell). I just want to be here for them.
To see what is coming up, check out the Chapel Gallery Instagram, @chapel_sav.