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Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018 12:10 am

The Pharmacy gallery heads downtown

 “Everyone I talk to is so excited about us moving into this new space,” said Janet Sgro, president of the nonprofit The Pharmacy Gallery and Art Space.

The Pharmacy’s new location is at 623 E. Adams, on the same block currently playing home to downtown Springfield mainstays Recycled Records and The Cardologist. The move comes after four fruitful years at 711 S. Fifth St., in a unique building on the property of the Jack Stoldt Auto Services Center. The arts group was founded in 2011 at 401 S. Grand Ave., which formerly housed a pharmacy.

“Our intent when we moved to Fifth Street was to have a bigger space, more room to display and a better location closer to downtown,” Sgro said. “It’s also an interesting structure, and it seemed to attract a lot of people.” While housed there, according to Sgro, the group’s membership essentially doubled. In addition to group shows by member artists, the Pharmacy started hosting musical performances, poetry readings, weekly open studio figure drawing sessions and other events. “We needed more and more space, and so we started to look around to see what was available,” Sgro said.

 After about a year of fruitless searching for a potential new location, the art group gave up and signed a new 12-month lease with Jack Stoldt. It was then that they were approached by John Barker, the owner of the building on Adams. “He wanted to show it to us, just as an option,” Sgro said. “So we did, and it was fantastic. It was like a blank slate, plus it was close to the Capitol, close to the tourist stuff – so we were pretty excited. It felt right.” Sgro said the floor space in the new location is 9,000 square feet, three times the size of the previous location.

The Pharmacy had wanted to work with Downtown Springfield, Inc. since moving to Fifth Street, but the previous location was a little too far off the beaten path. Now, the first official Pharmacy event at the new building will be participating in DSI’s Old Capitol Holiday Walks and the group is anticipating enthusiastic responses.

“Even when we were moving our stuff in, there were busloads of people walking by and asking what we were doing and what was going in there,” Sgro said.

The new Pharmacy space will be laid out so that approximately the rear third of the building will be dedicated to studio space for member artists to work in.

“The way it’s set up will be very open,” Sgro explained. “There will probably be some kind of rolling shelving units to divide the spaces, but for the most part, we will all be together. That’s a big thing, to have a stronger sense of community.”

This is something Sgro says had been present at the South Grand location but was missing on Fifth Street. “There, people felt very separated, so this will help bring us closer together,” she said. In addition, there are tentative plans for monthly weekend events where the space would be open to the public while the artists are at work.

Other advantages of the increased square footage in the new location will be greater versatility and convenience. “We have member artists who are multidimensional – not only are they visual artists, they are also sound artists,” Sgro said. “In the Fifth Street space, every time we had the weekly open studio figure drawing or a musical event, it would have to be set up and taken down, which won’t have to happen in the new space.With this in mind, there are plans to to build a portable stage which can be rolled out easily for performances and a dedicated space for figure drawing sessions.”

The lease begins Dec. 1, and Pharmacy members will be moving in and setting up before then. A two-night show of new work by member artists – the group’s 25th since 2011 – will be held on Friday, Dec. 7, and Saturday, Dec. 8.

Sgro expects the process of moving in and preparing a show in such a short time to be hectic, but worth it. It also brings a certain nostalgia. ”This reminds me of the days when we were doing shows at the warehouse on Pasfield and it was all very last minute,” she said. “It was crazy, but it was fun. Everybody came together and helped out, and that’s how this is going to be. It was [Pharmacy co-founder] Andrew Woolbright’s dream to have a space downtown, and now it’s happening.”

She pauses. “From the start, the Pharmacy always felt like a wheel, and it just keeps rolling – you either ride it, or you get off.”

Scott Faingold can be reached at scottfaingold@gmail.com

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