Some people are talkers and others are doers, and Althea Jones is certainly a doer. Althea opened the Black House Gallery right in the heart of Cleveland, which allows local youth and artists to be creative without boundaries. This urban art gallery is unique and different in many ways but mainly because it’s an abandoned house. What was once slated for demolition has now been recycled into authentic street art. In this Q&A, Althea tells how she started the Black House Gallery.
Nic Abraham: Welcome, Althea, how are you?
Althea Jones: Busy! Thanks for having me.
Nic: You’re welcome. Now, how did your art gallery come to be?
Althea: So, my art gallery is on 119th, between Kingsman and Union. Over in the Mount Pleasant area. It’s inside an abandoned house I own. When the market crashed, I ended up having to declare bankruptcy but the bank didn’t want it and the city didn’t tear it down. It was kind of like an open wound, basically, because I couldn’t get rid of it, and at that moment there wasn’t anything I could figure out to do with it either.
However, I kept feeling like there was something I was supposed to do. I started cleaning the house out, not really sure what for, but either way, I would need to do that. Then one day, I was on Instagram looking at somebody’s pictures. There are these people who take pictures of abandon buildings. I started looking at some of those and liked the pictures so I commented on someone’s stuff saying, “You know, your pictures are cool, you should do an art show one day.” And it actually ended up that about four months later, we had an art show at my location and it was pictures of abandoned buildings inside an abandoned building.
And that was kind of how it all started. That show was wildly popular. There were literally people outside waiting to get in. We ended up being featured in The Scene Magazine and The Plain Dealer. The whole concept behind the house was kind of being a safe space for creative people that don’t fit into any other place. Often times, when visiting an art museum or a typical art gallery, it’s extremely sterile. You look at art. It’s quiet. You don’t run, you don’t laugh too loud, you don’t touch anything.
What I’m trying to do is create the exact opposite of that. So, we laugh and joke. We have barbecues. We have art shows. Kids play soccer inside. Just all kinds of different things. There’s graffiti. Art on all the walls, ceilings, and floors.
It’s a very different type of place for creative people. It’s accessible. Art can be foreign to a lot of people, especially in our community as far as fine art and that whole circle. A lot of our kids have never been to the art museum or anything like that, but they see graffiti every day. It’s something they’re used to. So, it’s kinda like an entry point for people that are creative. For kids in the neighborhood who like art and want to be creative, but they don’t really have anywhere else to have that outlet or do that sort of thing. So yeah, we kind of have an open door for people to do whatever. And, our one year anniversary was July 30th.
Nic: Oh, congratulations.
Althea: Thank you. We just finished our second summer. And are renovating the house as a whole cause like I said, it literally was abandoned. So, there are no lights, there’s no heat, none of that. It’s definitely a work in progress, but it’s amazing what we can do in the space, even without what people feel is a necessity.
A lot of times think we need a lot more than we actually do. In one of the rooms, our house motto is spray painted on the wall and it says, “I’m not abandoned. I’m just waiting to be recycled.” And that’s the whole thought process behind it. It’s just using a space that no one wanted. Hell, I didn’t even want it and it’s my house! But it’s turned into something good, and it has been…it has been very good. That’s kind of it in a nutshell.
Nic: Awesome. So, how many art shows have you hosted?
Althea: Let’s see. This summer we probably had six or seven. So, sometimes it’s an art show that I have put together myself and then sometimes it’s someone that wants to host an art show. We had a tattoo shop that wanted to have an art show here. We had an organization that did a paint and sip fundraiser. Who else? We do a graffiti show. We do field trips for groups like Upward Bound. We just had Eastlake City Schools come, and we taught them about graffiti and its artistic nature. They were allowed to spray paint and create some art themselves. We also do graffiti on canvas classes. So, we have a lot going on.
Nic: That’s great! What’s your Website?
Althea: The website is www.theblackhousegallery.com.
Nic: And, what do you hope that the gallery will become?
Althea: I actually hope that it will be…I don’t know if become is the right word, but I think I would like it to be consistent. So right now, it’s just a cool place where people can come, hang out, do art stuff, feel comfortable and that’s really it. It’s just an enjoyable space to be. People come and stay literally for hours. There have been days when it’s like 7 PM and I’m like, “Alright y’all, I have to eat. I’m hungry. I gotta go!” And I have to literally kick people out. So it’s slowly evolving into something more.
I like what it is now and hope it continues to be a safe place for the kids in the area. A lot of times when they’re running up and down the street, and they don’t really have anything to do, I let them come spray paint, do sidewalk chalk or other things. Additionally, there are plenty of adults who have a creative nature and want to explore as well.
Society teaches us that being an artist isn’t a real job. We’re not encouraged to enjoy our creative nature. We’re encouraged to stifle it. So, even for people that just have a creative nature about them, but might not necessarily have an outlet, we’re a safe place for them too. They can come, do some art, have a good time with people they may not know, but who are not judging them for their interests or what they want to do. I think it’s really my goal to keep that feeling of authenticity and the easiness of approach to art and creative nature.
There’s no right or wrong. We have wonderful and beautiful graffiti pieces. We have pieces done by four-year-olds, literally, and 85-year-olds spray painting and creating art. So, I really want to keep that consistent throughout the programming and throughout everything we do.
Nic: That’s awesome. So, when is your next show?
Althea: So, actually we are getting ready to close for the season cause it’s getting ready to get cold. And you know, with Cleveland weather you never know when that is actually gonna happen so we’re getting ready to close for the season. Plus, the house is technically abandoned and a condemned building, and I recently had to go to court because of that and all the violations. So, we are racing against time to fix the violations in the timeframe they feel is appropriate. Over the next six months, we’ll be doing a lot, a lot, and I mean a lot of renovations to get all of those things taken care of so that we can stay compliant, and to keep the city from tearing down the house.
Nic: That sounds extremely stressful!
Althea: Yes, it is!
Nic: Well, Althea, I wish the Black House Gallery the best, and thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to tell us about the Black House Gallery. I know I will definitely visit when it reopens.
Althea: Anytime and thank you, Nic.