By Danielle Haynes
The Tonawanda News
— North Tonawanda is expanding its cultural offerings this evening with the grand opening of its newest art gallery, Project 308 Gallery at 308 Oliver St.
The gallery, brainchild of University at Buffalo graduate student Natalie Brown, 24, will kick off its first show at 7 p.m. with a reception complete with drinks, hors d’hoerves and a live DJ. A kid’s station will even be available for the little ones to create their own works of art as mom and dad check out the show, titled “Tactile Optics: Seeing Through Feeling.”
Brown said the opening of the gallery is the result of a school project for her art history masters with a specialization in museum studies at University at Buffalo.
“I always thought it was interesting to research museum theory and how museums work,” she said. “For a project we were allowed to do whatever we want and I turned it into a career move. That’s why I named it Project 308, because it’s an ongoing project for myself.”
Project 308 Gallery will welcome a variety of art styles and subjects, Brown said, adding that the space will at times feature shows she curates and other times artists will rent out the space.
“I figure nothing’s restricted. I’m not going to outcast any kind of art ... but I’m going towards modern, contemporary artwork,” she said. “It will be something new and fun and I want a lot of interaction with the audience.”
Which is why the idea behind the inaugural show was so appealing to Brown.
“Tactile Optics” is perhaps the most interactive a gallery showing can be because unlike most exhibits, visitors can actually touch the paintings and sculptures on display.
“With my interest in museum theory I realize you’re so restricted sometimes. You can experience the painting only by looking at it from a distance ... you never get to touch fine art. I really wanted something different and I wanted it to be kid friendly,” she said.
“People who are blind definitely wouldn’t go to an art museum ‘cause how would they experience it,” she added.
Brown said the theme for the show was inspired by a Tonawanda News profile of North Tonawanda artist Sherri Marranca, who was inspired by her almost completely blind daughter Nina to incorporate braille into her paintings.
“I saw Sherri in the News and I just thought it was so cool,” Brown said, adding that she later added sculpture artist Ellen Rogers who answered a call for art.
Marranca said she’s excited to participate in her first gallery showing. She’s had plenty of opportunities to be featured on gallery walls, but found it’s too difficult to keep enough stock on hand for a show since Internet sales are booming. Being offered a chance to be in on the ground floor of Project 308 Gallery’s opening was a different story though, she said.
“I think it’s a great opportunity. I’m glad that Natalie contacted visually impaired programs and invited them to the opening,” Marranca said.
“I did request that she hang (the paintings) low enough that they can touch them cause I wanted them to be approachable.”
Marranca’s textured paintings of braille words, trees and poppies will be accompanied by three animal-inspired sculptures by Rogers.
Rogers is a recent UB art school graduate whose background as a veterinarian has inspired her to create steel and mixed-media structures of animals. Her masters thesis project at the Buffalo Zoo had certain restrictions that made her work perfect for Brown’s tactile show.
“One of the requirements (at the Buffalo Zoo) is that all the artwork had to be childproof. People were going to touch it and try to climb it and I had to make it sturdy enough to stand up to that,” Rogers said. “As I was installing (the show), I saw people touching my sculptures constantly and I really enjoyed them interacting with my work.”
Both Rogers and Marranca will be on hand at tonight’s opening reception, and for her part, Rogers said she’s excited to meet her fellow artist for the first time.
“I’m really excited to see and touch,” Marranca’s paintings, Rogers said. “The fact that she’s doing this for people who can’t see touches my heart.”
The opening reception will run until 10 p.m. and all art works are available for purchase.
Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.
IF YOU GO
• WHAT: "Tactile Optics: Seeing Through Feeling"
• WHEN: 7 to 10 p.m.; regular hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and by appointment
• WHERE: Project 308 Gallery, 308 Oliver St.
• MORE INFORMATION: Call 523-0068 or visit www.facebook.com/project308gallery