The Creative Hum of City Gallery
Veteran art duo makes dreams reality in renovated PACA storefront
"This is just so exciting. I've always loved this building. When this place opened up I was like, 'Oh my god! I've always wanted it, I've always loved it. If it's ready for us, let's just jump in.'" Lena Logvina, co-owner of Artlore Studio (3406 W. Lake Rd.) and now City Gallery at 1503 State St., is visibly excited during our tour of her new gallery. With each turn of a corner, the building opens up to a new space, a little alcove, an unexpected balcony, all brimming with the potential of what it is becoming. Building owner and PACA (Performing Artists Collective Alliance) progenitor Mark Tanenbaum reiterates the serendipity that Logvina feels: "Five years ago, we weren't ready for them and they weren't ready for us. We've both grown to the point where now our shared mission is able to be presented and created. It's just perfect timing."
City Gallery opened in July 2021 to great accolades for the veteran Erie art scene duo of Lena Logvina and Steve Trohoske, as they work to make their dreams a reality in their new space. They have a glowing vision for its future, in collaboration with PACA, to be a lighthouse for creative minds in Erie.
When Lovgina and Trohoske started their business at Artlore Studios six and a half years ago, they never dreamed it would grow to what it is now. It started as a space for Logvina to work on and display her own art and jewelry, but with so much support from their friends and the art community, they were able to expand, show and sell work from dozens of different local artists, offer artisan run classes, and hold live music events. "We had ideas and we worked really hard, and everyone just came together to make that place what it is. And now this is like a hundred times bigger in the sense of dreams than Artlore. We have so much space, and I love that you can go to so many different spaces here and see different things." And as we walk along a wide open upper balcony that spans the length of the gallery, Logvina points out how all those different spaces can help you see the art in a different way. She points to a striking, colorful landscape below us: "When you're standing here and looking at that purple piece, a Rachael Burke, look at how amazing, magnificent it looks. Then move over here, and it takes you to a completely different place. It changes the art to be able to see it from different heights and different perspectives."
A change in perspective is what the couple hopes can shape and define their new art gallery. Eventually, they are working to move Artlore Studios into this building, to combine it with this space. The area upstairs, behind the main gallery area, will become a studio for work the likes of which now happens at their West Lake Road location. Logvina also points out an area of the building that will be transformed into an art supply store. Because there are more than 40 artists using the studio space at PACA, they are excited to offer retail art supplies, where artists can pick up the basic tools they need right there, without leaving the building.
It is this synergy that Tanenbaum hopes contributes to both City Gallery and PACA's continued success: "Having everyone build off each other, that's the goal. That creative hum interconnects things. City Gallery is physically connected to PACA, so when people come to PACA for a play on a Friday night, they can then wander down to listen to music or buy some art. There's cooperation and interaction."
Having such an expansive gallery space and venue within the same building, which has been growing, expanding, and improving for the past 10 years, is such an important move and addition to the overall vision and mission of PACA. City Gallery fills a need in that little corner of the city that is dedicated to serving the creative sector of Erie. Tanenbaum comments: "In an overall sense, City Gallery, as Artlore before them, is an essential gathering space for a variety of types of artists: visual arts, painting, sculpting, and the like, as well as jazz and music. That's actually PACA's main thrust: to connect the various arts all in the same place, all at the same time. We've always been dedicated to this so to have City Gallery connect with us is just a natural progression for where we are and where they are."
Not only are Logvina and Trohoske changing their perspective and their place within the art community, they are doing it in a 120-year-old building that has redefined itself alongside the City of Erie over the years. The Mayer Building, which Tanenbaum recently succeeded in adding to the National Register of Historic Places, stretches nearly half the block, comprising PACA along with multiple storefronts, including City Gallery, and has long been an anchor building in the area.
Henry Mayer was a Civil War veteran who built 1501-1509 State Street in 1899 to house his construction business and offices. The building has had many functions over the years including serving as an overflow Typhoid ward during the epidemic in 1913. The storefront that has become City Gallery has also been a home to a number of businesses through the decades, including a wallpaper store, a grocery store, and more recently, serving as the studio and gallery for prolific local artist Fran Schanz. But as PACA grows and changes, so does the building's purpose. Finding a sustainable use for an old building is essential to its preservation, and Tanenbaum has made it his mission to make sure the building and its use are well defined: "More important than to save an old building, which is important, is to create a methodology where that saved building is useful." As one walks through City Gallery, it looks like a modern, up-to-date art gallery, but with little touches that give away it's oldness, like the wooden, multi-paneled doors, the creaky wood stairs, decorative bannister and newel post, and exposed brick and stone walls. The character of the building shines through, while it is still able to function comfortably as a modern space.
Trohoske, Logvina, and Tanenbaum, have already completed a mountain of work in the building, and work is still ongoing. "We've gotten really far since July and every day there's work going on here. A lot of this will be done and ready to go before people think," Trohoske reports. Within City Gallery, Logvina and Trohoske have painted, cleaned, installed tracks for hanging art, removed carpeting, and finished the floors, while Tanenbaum accomplished most of the major construction including the design and current layout of the space, lighting, and adding an ADA compliant bathroom. And construction and improvement is ongoing as they transform the ever-unfolding square footage of the building into more usable spaces to come.
While parts of the building are still in the throes of reinvention and renovation, City Gallery is currently fully operational and has an interesting and eclectic schedule of upcoming shows and performances scheduled through the spring. Through mid-February, the gallery will feature the work of local artist Jon Box, who is hosting a month-long visual presentation entitled "Amor Supra Omnia," Love Above All. Trohoske is excited for their upcoming slate of artists: "We want to bring world-class art here. We also want to give younger people their starts. We're bringing in three musical acts this spring: The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, Afro Horns, and Matt Maneri's Dust Quartet." City Gallery has plans to host a fashion show featuring the work of a local designer in March. In terms of visual art, the gallery is looking forward to showcasing the watercolor art of McKenzie Sprague in March, Dan and Rachael Burke in April, and a Fairview High School photography show in May. The couple is also excited about the possibility of holding events like weddings and private parties in the gallery.
When one walks through the doors of City Gallery or PACA, one can feel the buzz of creative energy and excitement. The place is filled with the passion of the people who have made it all happen, and it is only going to grow, expand, and mature from here. Tanenbaum reflects: "I get up every morning and I can't wait to do more stuff, I just love it. When people put their time and money and everything they have into something, I want them to be successful. We've only been in existence here for 10 years and look at all we've done. Who knows what the next 50 years brings?" With some of the most creative, ambitious, and hard-working people in Erie at the helm, I, for one, look forward to watching it all unfold.
Erin Phillips runs the Instagram @olderieonfoot, an in-depth look at local architecture "by foot, stroller, papoose, bike, and occasionally minivan."