Recently I had the honor of working with the Museum Trustee Association during its 4 day visit to North Carolina. One can never see it all but this time around it felt like we came close to doing just that in our cultural visits in and around the Triangle and the Triad. I hesitate to single out any one institution (they are all great and I have never been so proud of NC...) even so on our Sunday morning visit to Elsewhere I was struck anew by its ineffably powerful impact. I have long wanted to feature my hometown of Greensboro in 'A CITY A WEEK...' and that morning it suddenly hit me--Elsewhere could be the place to hang this particular hat. Elsewhere co-founder George Scheer has been kind enough to take a break from his very busy schedule to tell us more...and next time you are in downtown Greensboro--whether you have come from down the street or across an ocean--remember to check out Elsewhere. It's got that certain something that makes it both of this place and a place like no other...
Greensboro North Carolina and the Piedmont Triad (including Winston-Salem and High Point) host a broad spectrum for the visual arts. The Weatherspoon Museum, Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA), Reynolda House Museum of American Art, and the Greenhill Gallery of North Carolina Art present a diversity of visual cultures, regional perspectives, contemporary and historical explorations. Differently nestled, among antique stores, restaurants, and downtown Greensboro businesses, sits Elsewhere, a living museum and experimental artist residency set in a former thrift store in this historic South Elm neighborhood. Founded in 2003 as a non-profit artist-run space, Elsewhere is part museum, part international residency, and part public studio. However, Elsewhere appears like a three story wunderkammer and installation artwork being sculpted from a former store still containing its vast collection of cultural inventories.
From 1939-1997, former proprietress Sylvia Gray amassed a vast collection of wares including 1500 bolts of vintage fabric, thousands of articles of clothing, classic board games, toys from each decade, books, furniture, and knick-knacks. Upon Sylvia’s passing the store remained, filled and without destination, literally overflowing its shelves. Re-discovered by Sylvia’s grandson and a group of artists, they declared, “Nothing For Sale” and transformed the inventories into a permanent collection and evolving resource for artists around the world to create new work within and for the museum. Today, Elsewhere hosts 50 artists a year on residencies and curated fellowships, welcomes more than 10,000 visitors, and produces "I don't do boxes," a magazine made by LGBTQ youth.
Greensboro seems like an unlikely place to uncover an avant-garde experiment in emerging art practice, social engagement and urban placemaking. Many museum visitors simply stumble upon Elsewhere while shopping downtown. What they discover is a world of memories and curiosities, a place filled with artists constantly making, and an opportunity to engage with critical ideas in a contemporary but also playful way.
With three floors and two-storefronts there is a lot to see and touch in this contemporary house museum. There is a library, kitchen, fabric workshop, and “piano bouncy ball” a sound instrument made of piano parts that you can throw super balls at. A fourteen room former boarding house on the second floor hosts installations including a fabric fortress, ribbon room, and a wardrobe that is simply wall to wall of vintage clothing worn by artists. On the third floor, a wood library, toynado, army bunker, and artist workshop are just some of the projects created by artists using the store’s materials. Everywhere is a mixture of objects and artworks, interwoven into the very architecture of the building. Moreover, everything is always changing, and so visitors come to see the living museum as much for its artworks as for how those things are being transformed all the time.
There is so much art available in the Piedmont region of North Carolina that a trip to the area feels vital and full. The opportunity to get lost within Elsewhere will remind you why creative culture is important and cool.