Theirs was a passion born from a common frustration framed by a Great Recession America, one that had stricken Omaha with a bounty of empty storefronts and too many starving artists.
So when visual artists Joel Damon and Josh Powell began to liaise the two under the collaborative guise Project Project—a roaming, repurposing art gallery that now has a permanent home in the heart of the Vinton Street Historic District—it was to help those left behind in the local arts community. They had no idea that they’d be transforming the act of showing artwork into an art form all its own.
“I was getting really upset about the level of support for young, emerging artists in the city,” Damon, 32, says in reflecting back on the 2008 epiphany that would eventually launch the initiative. “And so I decided to find some artists who were super rad and put up an exhibition of their work.”
The former curator of the Bemis Underground says one of those artists happened to be Powell, 34, a Myspace friend (or acquaintance in real-life speak) whose artwork caught his eye and whose ethos resonated with his own.
Most events, Damon recalls, gave local aesthetes the opportunity to appreciate artwork from virtually unknown Omaha-area artists.
“You were also given the chance to go into these vacant, beautiful spaces that you probably never would have had a chance to,” Powell adds. The duo would go on to co-curate a half dozen pop-up art shows in unlikely places across the city over the next half decade before landing a space of their own last year.
The repetitively named Project Project gallery doesn’t stray much from that sentiment: It’s a former alley—about the width of a covered wagon—turned butchery, with a floor that intentionally declines 3 inches on one side so that blood would flow away from work areas. The “horse door,” as Damon jokingly puts it, connects the gallery to a pseudo-atrium, which was once a livery stable.
“It was just going to be another one-night deal,” Damon confesses about the space. “After we thought, ‘Let’s give it a shot next month,’ and then the next month came, and then the next.”
After a year of free rent, the gallery held a $100 art sale last summer to finance their 2015 campaign. Damon says they met their goal in one night after hosting a turnout in the hundreds.
That kind of support, he believes, is a testament to the public’s desire for an art space whose very nature—just like in their pop-up days—is defined by an element of risk in showing “stuff that can’t be sold or stuff that probably wouldn’t sell.”
“This is not a business,” Damon says. “This strains both of our pocketbooks. This strains both of our times with our wives. This is some stupid compulsion. I don’t know what this is, but it’s what we enjoy doing…we enjoy helping other artists.”
Visit projectprojectomaha.com to learn more.