Art & Accessibility: Third Space Art Collective

On my tour of Third Space, an art warehouse and performance venue on 946 Olive Drive, the echo of my footsteps and voice as I was introduced to members of this independent art collective – Sally Hensel, Evan Clayburg, Dylan Wright, Denise Dempsey and Chandler Lavin – made me realize how much open, usable space there was in the building. Originally constructed as an auto shop, the collective’s repurposing of the facility allowed for the creation of a spacious industrial gallery and performance venue. One corner, with the couches and chairs where the interview was conducted, was stationed next to a fairly sizeable collection of worn vinyl records and cassettes. The walls were adorned with visual art, ranging from a collection of images that visualized musical tones, to a vividly colored painting of a woman with piercing blue eyes by founding member Clayburg.

Walking past the gallery, the offices had been turned into private work studios. The garage, which at one point housed old cars, has been replaced with the scents of oil and acrylic paints, as well as wood for projects such as sculpture or set design for the theatrical black box housed in the middle of the building. Paintbrushes brimmed from containers and screen-printing machines sat impatiently waiting to be used. Any artist who comes to Third Space is provided with potential inspiration and access to the tools to mold their creations, and that’s exactly what the collective envisioned.

“It can be expensive to be an artist,” said Dempsey, a member of the collective since March 2014. “And that’s something we’re trying to address for the people who don’t [have access to supplies and space]. [Lack of access to supplies] can keep them from [creating the art they envisioned].”

Clayburg, a founding member of the collective, said he felt Third Space was an important part of enabling local artists to create original masterpieces.

“[A benefit to giving access to supplies and working space] opens up room to experiment,” said Clayburg. “You’re willing to try something new without [thinking]. I’ve spent $500 on supplies and I had to book my show at a gallery two years in advance [so I have to do something more conventional to recoup costs].

We’ve tried to lower the bar on the entry point to experiment.”

Third Space, the Davis-based independent art collective, was conceptualized in 2013 when founding member Sally Hensel wanted a location where she could host “House Shows” – concerts and exhibitions by mostly independent bands – and avoid noise complaints from neighbors. While looking for locations, the idea evolved into establishing a collective of artists and finding a location that could support not only musicians, but artists using a wide range of mediums. Not having an official name, the collective was inspired by the third space theory. The theory, coined by critical theorist Homi K. Bhabba, proposes that there is a third sphere of social congregation in addition to home and work that allows for expression of self.

“[The theoretical Third Space] is a low-cost, public, low-risk [space], as opposed to work or school [where there are repercussions for failures],” Hensel said. “You can play or experiment.”

Third Space has been able to provide a space for artists of all backgrounds working in all mediums. Through a monthly membership of $50, artists are provided with donated supplies and a space to work or perform.

“[With membership] you get a key to [the building], locker storage and you can book concerts [and other events],” Wright said.

While membership – and its benefits – can be gained for a fee, Wright also mentioned that Third Space provides discounted fees for aspiring artists who are willing to volunteer.

“You can volunteer a lot and pay less,” Wright said. “If you’re time-rich and cash-poor you can still be [a member and have access to Third Space]. Some people are a part of the space and don’t pay anything, just because they’re working.”

Through the combination of volunteers and paid members, as well as regional artist booking, there has been a variety of events at Third Space. As of February 2015, the events at the multipurpose building have included (but are not limited to): band practices and performances, poetry readings, storytelling night, theater art, leather working, yoga and performance art.

In addition to independent artists from the Davis community and surrounding areas, the UC Davis art scene has also embraced – and been embraced by – Third Space, with organizations such as the Art-Science Fusion seminar and Feminist Film Festival hosting events/exhibitions in the gallery area. The collective has also taken on UC Davis undergraduates as interns.

To conclude the interview, I asked the members to share their individual vision of Third Space, both the repurposed automotive shop and the collective:

Dempsey: More community art shows. Now that we have [expanded to the front room], we have more art on the walls, so [community art shows] are on our lists.

Wright: I would like to see it become self-sustaining so that no one has to pay [a fee to be a member]. We’ve reached a threshold as a nonprofit [organization] that we can start applying for grants.… It’s valuable for artists to have rented art space, and for members to be able to drop in and be a part of [workshops and classes with a small donation]. As far as keeping the lights on, I would like for that to be helped by benefactors with resources to support us. I want [Third Space] to be recognized as a destination in the Central Valley.

Hensel: I would love to come to a show and ask, “Who booked this? I don’t recognize any of the faces of people working the door, working the PA, or booking the bands.” To have a totally fresh new wave of energy come into the space would be cool.

Clayburg: It would be awesome to own our building. Whether or not it’s this one or another space, the long-term goal would be to own our building. [We also want to be more] proactive with hosting monthly art shows.

Lavin: Out of [Third Space], we’ll grow other collectives and community organizations that will come from what people learned here. We’re the newest baby now, but eventually we’re going to be a part of [a lineage of organizations], passing on our skill and art [and] making people excited to be able to do their own thing.

As a literal encapsulation of the collective’s “artists-helping-artists” ethos, following my interview and tour of the space, they were helping move chairs in preparation for the other member’s workshop.

For more information on Third Space, including how to get involved or donate, as well as future events, visit their website or their Facebook page.

Photo by Rashad Hurst