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Going underground: (l-r) Tommy Watkins and Chip Fasciana. Photo by: John Whipple

Everything’s Happy Underground

Independently owned-and -operated art spaces have become increasingly few-and-far-between in the Capital Region.The recent closing of Changing Spaces gallery, the continued homelessness of the Miss Mary’s collective, and the lamentation over the long-gone-but-not-forgotten Loft serve as constant reminders of the difficult climate facing local artists. In response to the scene’s shrinking scope in the public lens, Chip Fasciana and Tommy Watkins have adopted the do-it-yourself ethos with Underground Artists, a project to rally together members of the art community and promote and publicize their cause by staging one-night showings in non-traditional, non-gallery spaces.

“If you’re an artist around here and you want to get a show, you’re going to get a [show at a] coffee shop, if you’re lucky,” says Fasciana. Venues like the Albany Institute of History and Art are “not going to show any local artists,” he insists, expressing the frustration felt by many of the region’s young creative minds. Watkins seconds that emotion. “A lot of the local stores in the area, like Justin’s [and] Shades of Green, they’ll allow you to put some of your artwork in there,” he says, “but there are more artists than the area can [accommodate].”

The idea for Underground Artists started rather innocently, and somewhat accidentally. In January, Fasciana staged the Five Starving Artists Surrounded by Cheesecake show in a friend’s storefront on lower Hamilton Avenue. “They were dragging their feet . . . getting the space ready,” he says of the owners, “so I went in and removed a lot of the wallpaper, cleaned it up and painted the walls.” A few weeks later, Watkins held a highly successful one-nighter at ego Menswear on Lark Street, and Fasciana suggested a collaboration.

When several parties expressed interest in seeing another such show occur, Watkins and Fasciana decided to take it upon themselves to commandeer vacant or otherwise unused spaces and renovate them into “viable rental properties,” in exchange for their temporary use as art facilities. A phone call to the Lark Street BID office put them in contact with Hollis Milark, owner of the former Carosello Bakery building, and the Underground Artists project was born.

Watkins and Fasciana’s first collaborative show will open tomorrow (Friday) night at 7 PM in the freshly-renovated space at 197 Lark St. in Albany. In addition to their own work, other artists who will be showing include Robert Gullie, Mark Gregory, Shaina Marron, Kevin Bruce, and several others. With the exception of noted photo-manipulator Gullie, “all of the artists are from within a half-mile radius (of the location),” says Fasciana. The space itself has added a distinct character to the exhibit; in fact, an entire room in the historic bakery has been dedicated to an installation displaying items found in the historic space during the renovation. Area businesses, including Capital Wine and Spirits and JG’s Pizza, are helping out with the event by donating food and drink, adding to the community vibe.

“This is a way for struggling artists to have an opportunity that they may have never had before; to possibly sell something, continue to spread their names, their ideas and ambitions” says Watkins, explaining the mission of Underground Artists. “There is a hotbed of creative artists around here,” adds Fasciana. “[We want to] give them the opportunity to do something that is real and tangible.” The pair stress their intentions to move this project forward. Artists interested in participating in future Underground Artists shows, as well as anyone who might have a potential space in which to stage such an event, are asked to contact Tommy Watkins at lowgain@yahoo.com.

—John Brodeur

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