- Associated Press - Monday, November 9, 2015

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - Outside this downtown storefront, a child jumps along the hopscotch course painted on the sidewalk by a Miami artist.

Children play on swings that hang in the window as their parents snap photos.

The doorway in its mural-decorated facade leads into rooms filled to their 14-foot ceilings with a gazillion objects from the last century.

Welcome to Elsewhere, the living museum and artist residency in a former thrift store at 606 S. Elm St.

For much of the 20th century, store proprietor Sylvia Gray packed its three stories with toys, board games, fabric, clothing, ribbons, jars of buttons, books, Army surplus, records, kitchenware, suitcases, furniture parts - “just about any material or cultural item from 1939 to 1997 that you can think of,” said Valerie Wiseman, an Elsewhere curator.

Now artists come here from around the world to use those items to create art.

Elsewhere’s playful “hoardiculture” adds to the creative spark in the Elm Street area south of the downtown railroad tracks, home to art galleries, antiques shops, restaurants and retail businesses, as well as to the new HQ Greensboro work space for startup companies and The Forge maker space.

“We have been putting Greensboro on the map for contemporary and emerging creativity,” said George Scheer, Gray’s grandson, who co-founded and leads Elsewhere. “Artists all over the world know about Greensboro, North Carolina, because of Elsewhere.”

Artists such as Xi Jie “Salty” Ng. She found Elsewhere online and came from Singapore to spend the past month making art there.

“I think it’s one of the most unique artist residencies in the world,” Ng said.

This year - its 13th - has been one of expansion for the nonprofit organization.

It extended its reach into its South Elm neighborhood, using a $200,000 grant from ArtPlace America to commission national artists to transform buildings, alleyways and green spaces with plantings and public art.

The hopscotch course down South Elm Street? One of the South Elm Projects.

The Greensboro Permaculture Guild garden? A hydroponic system and vertical landscaping? The wall mural behind Elsewhere and HQ Greensboro, The Forge and Gibbs Brewing?

All South Elm Projects.

When the museum closes for the winter on Nov. 7, it will embark on a major renovation.

The $800,000 project will add 12 living units for artists and heating and air conditioning, allowing the museum to extend its operations from seven to 12 months a year. Elsewhere has $650,000 in grants, pledges and donations to move ahead.

“It will really change the way that we operate,” Scheer said.

The store had been boarded up since Gray’s death in 1997 when college seniors Scheer and Stephanie Sherman visited on a 2003 spring break from the University of Pennsylvania. It got them brainstorming: Could this become a thinking playground?

Friends joined their excavation of the massive remaining inventory. They declared that the contents would remain, that nothing would be for sale.

As they looked for a name, “Elsewhere became the most accurate way to describe and relate to a place so specific and situated, and yet filled up like so many attics and basements across the nation,” Scheer said.

Their first $2,000 grant came in 2004 from Arts Greensboro, allowing Elsewhere to open its museum to the public.

“It gave us the confidence to move forward,” Scheer said.

In 2005, Elsewhere began an artist residency program. Often run by museums, universities, galleries and studio spaces, residencies give artists time and space away from their usual environment to reflect, meet new people and make art.

It now attracts 50 artists each year. For three to six weeks, they live in the community and create art well beyond traditional painting, drawing and sculpting.

Ng, 28, paid $500 for a month’s residency plus $50 a week for Elsewhere’s food co-op that provides meals nightly, amounts below the cost of other residencies, she said.

Unlike residencies that require proposals in advance, Elsewhere wants visiting artists to explore the space first.

On a weekday afternoon, Ng washed and sewed fabrics for a meditative installation where visitors can rest and re-center themselves.

She has cleansed the materials with reiki, an energy-healing practice that gives the space a relaxed, clean and calm feeling.

The blanket she has sewn includes her body imprint, and chakras. or energy centers. When a visitor lies on it, “there is resonance between the visitor and me,” Ng said.

Another blanket featuring constellation and chakras will hang above. Visitors can listen to a cosmic and dreamy soundscape through headphones.

“This, for me, has been a really magical place,” Ng said of Elsewhere.

Some artists come through its Southern Constellations fellowship program, which brings in six Southern artists annually who create experimental work. This month, their work is on display at Artspace in Raleigh.

Elsewhere’s work has attracted grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and national and local foundations.

The NEA has provided close to $100,000 in four grants, including money for Southern Constellations. The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Kresge Foundation and ArtPlace America, a consortium of foundations, have been strong supporters.

Those grants help to finance an annual budget that is typically $250,000 - $350,000 this year with South Elm Projects - and supports a full-time staff of six this year, five next year.

The rest comes from earnings from educational programs, museum memberships, residency fees, tours and space rentals.

“We run an enormously effective and impactful program on an incredibly small amount of money,” said Scheer, 35, who divides his time between Elsewhere and studying for a doctorate at UNC.

Nancy Doll, the director of Weatherspoon Art Museum at UNC-Greensboro, serves on Elsewhere’s board. She praises it as a “creative organization that has become a key part of the Greensboro’s cultural landscape.”

“I’ll admit that, when I first visited it - even before it opened - I had my doubts,” Doll said. “But George and Stephanie had a vision that is continually being renewed. One thing for which I give the entire Elsewhere team great credit is that they have succeeded in keeping it a nimble and responsive organization for which growth and evolution are part of the bedrock foundation.”

Yet Elsewhere remains undiscovered by many Greensboro residents.

“They have certainly brought in interesting people who want to learn what they have to offer, and I can’t tell exactly what that is,” said Mary Wells, the longtime owner of Mary’s Antiques across the street. She compliments artists and staff for organizing the building’s contents, and said she wants to tour it and learn more.

Many people still don’t know how they can participate, Scheer said.

“A place like Elsewhere asks you to participate in a way that most places don’t,” he said. “We have been so conditioned to think that our way of participating in the world is by buying. We are not asking you to buy things.”

Visitors can tour Elsewhere to learn how it does what it does. They can play with the contents. They can attend educational programs and creative retreats.

“When people come into the museum, we try to boil it down to the living museum and the artist residency program,” said Wiseman, its communications curator. “We are much more than that. We are this network of artists around the country and doing these public programs and projects.”

On stairway walls that lead to the second floor, artists have re-drawn receipts from the Carolina Sales surplus business that his grandparents ran there in the 1930s and 1940s.

A Chicago sound artist turned another stairway into the Urban Gray Ballroom, a 14-seat performance space complete with a Moog synthesizer.

The second floor had been a boarding house until Scheer’s grandfather died in 1955.

Now each room has a theme. A Glass Forest displays glass arrangements that artists have created over time. There’s a Fabric Fortress, and a room of handbags, coats, hats and costume jewelry. Another room holds a “baby doll tornado,” a tornado shape made of dolls.

Piles of ribbon fill the Ribbon Room. “The story is that my grandmother would take it home, wash and iron it and roll it onto pencils into the circles you see on the wall,” Scheer said.

An Odd Fellows Lodge once occupied the third floor. Now, Army surplus material fills one of its small rooms. An artist polished metal mess kits and discovered soldiers’ etched drawings.

The Ghost Room displays artists’ clothing sculptures of the building’s ghosts. “It’s inevitable that there are spirits living in this house, and it’s up to us to make peace with that,” Ng said.

Outside, Wiseman shows how the 12 South Elm Projects resulted from artists’ explorations of the neighborhood.

She points out abstract murals that the Milagros Collective painted on building facades, a fence and the globe at South Elm Street and Gate City Boulevard.

Chat Travieso of Brooklyn, N.Y., built a mobile platform with a stage and seating for pop-up performances and events.

In a grassy plot a few blocks away, at Arlington and Bragg streets, Brooklyn-based artist Heather Hart constructed a structures of multilayered tables she calls The Porch Project: Black Lunch Tables.

The outdoor classroom will host discussions of race, identity and neighborhood belonging.

New York artist Chloë Bass will use interviews she conducted with local residents to create plaques to install on buildings. Instead of marking famous historical moments, the plaques will describe their everyday stories that add meaning to a community.

One will tell the story of Scheer and Sherman how built Elsewhere. “When they came here, they were super-young to take on this project,” Bass said.

On a weekday afternoon, Jay Elaine Miller has brought children Isabella, 9, and Jacoby, 7, to Elsewhere. This is Miller’s first trip to any attraction south of the railroad tracks.

Isabella and Jacoby laugh as they play Super Piano Bouncy Ball. They make musical sounds by throwing handfuls of tiny rubber balls into the installation of a piano keyboard, drums, cymbals, guitar and xylophone.

“It’s awesome,” Miller said of Elsewhere. “It’s something out of the norm that Greensboro does. I am hoping that it will help other entrepreneurs see that Greensboro is welcoming, and we do want something creative like this.”

___

Information from: News & Record, http://www.news-record.com

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