Art Snax: SPAACES in Sarasota nourishes local artists, fosters creativity

Slightly outside the Tampa Bay bubble, the non-profit SPAACES provides exhibition space, studios, and education for contemporary artists in Sarasota.
While many galleries in the Sarasota scene are focused on retail with traditional forms of art, SPAACES Foundation is more like what Tempus Projects is to Seminole Heights -- it aims to offer contemporary exhibitions that push the boundaries of what art can be while collaborating with artists from different mediums.
SPAACES, an acronym for “Sarasota Project Aligning Artists Communities, Exhibits, and Studios,” is housed in an industrial warehouse in the heart of Sarasota that is quickly adding to an already robust art scene. While it initially opened as a commercial art gallery in 2019 under the name M. Chapel Projects, the gallery has pivoted in its mission, becoming a non-profit last September.
“About six months after opening as an art gallery, I realized it was not for me. I wanted to have a more community type space because there wasn’t anything like it here. We talk about Sarasota being an art city with The Ringling, but the regular, everyday working artists I know weren’t represented anywhere, and I wanted to be a part of that,” says Marianne Chapel, artist and founder of SPAACES.
A big instigator to jump into this project was a tour of the world that Chapel and her husband did, selling their house and belongings in Sarasota and traveling to a new place every few months. Coming back to Sarasota after three years gave her a new-found love for her hometown, inspired by international artists who were working to make a living as full-time artists. Chapel is hoping SPAACES will serve as a bridge for artists who have had no gallery experience to having an exhibition. Soon, programming will be available for artists with helpful tips on from grant writing to crafting artist statements and even be there for technological help.
Room for growth, from studios to exhibition space
To re-create that feeling of the comradery of graduate school art classes that Chapel fondly remembers, SPAACES has split up their main unit with half of it reserved for the gallery and the other side split into four smaller studio spaces. Another two studios are situated on the side of the garage. This attracted other artists to this warehouse district, with 6 more artists joining this small but blooming arts center.
“I had a studio in my home previously, but nothing like this. Studio space outside of the home just confirms what you do in a way, it makes it feel more real being an artist. That dividing line is good for my creative practice and mental health and makes me more focused,” says Laine Nixon, SPAACES studio artist and board member. “It’s not as formal as a school setting, but there’s hardly a day I don’t run into an artist and have a conversation. These studio chats continue to impact my work by having this professional and personal connection with other artists. It’s hard to make those connections without that infrastructure.”
On the exhibition side of SPAACES, experimental works are encouraged as a counterbalance to most of the commercial art galleries in the area. 
“We like artwork that focuses on social change, so it can be conceptual or be mixed media. We like installation work that wouldn’t be typically selling in a gallery in Sarasota. We also look at artists that have just been working really hard,” Chapel says.
The next exhibition on SPAACES’ plate is Ian North’s solo show Life is the Stories We Tell Ourselves, opening Feb. 12. While his works are inspired by a variety of things, from dreams to the found materials he uses in his pieces themselves, North doesn’t want to force meaning on any of his pieces: they should be about whatever the viewer thinks it should be. Cleverly aligning with the artist’s statement about his work, SaraSolo Productions will be creating an interpretive performance of North’s works called Art Speaks on Feb. 20 from 6:30-8 p.m.
“SaraSolo performers have pressure to work at North’s works at his opening, write short 5-10 minute play, and have one week to practice before performing the following week. To quickly come up with the whole play in such a short period of time, I cant wait to see what they come up with,” Chapel says.
As SPAACES’ first collaboration, Chapel hopes this will start building the bond with other arts groups so more collaborations can happen in the future. Becoming part of the arts ecosystem as a non-profit is no small feat, but Chapel makes sure to prioritize helping individual artists.
“I want to help the majority of the artists living here, but SPAACES is deeply personal too. I don’t have any kids, it’s just a decision I made. The people who I work with mean something, we’re like a little family and I want to pass along what I’ve learned to others,” Chapel explains. “I feel pretty privileged, with, especially with everything that’s been going on in the world. I feel like I’ve been given a lot, just being born a white person, and there’s part of me that wants to give back because of that. It just warms my heart, making these kinds of experiences for other artists.”
To learn more, visit the SPAACES website or follow SPAACES on Facebook.
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Caitlin Albritton is a freelance writer based in Tampa with a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design and a MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art. When she's not looking at art throughout town, she can be found making it. You can keep up with her visual art on Instagram @caitlinalbritton or on her website. Visit her recent line of inlay “wearable paintings.”