Photograph by Megan Erbacher

Artist Nicole Wolfersberger stands beside "Sleipnir, 8-footed Horse," her embroidery piece in Art Hospital’s final show, Carnivalesque. The 5-year-old gallery held its last show on July 24.

The Red Cross emblem on the outside implies it's a hospital. But the art hanging on the white walls make it apparent it is not. The Art Hospital, which opened in late 2005, will be gone by July 31, 2010. The local art gallery and studio, located at 102 E. Allen St., held its final show, "Carnivalesque," a celebration of carnival-, fairground- and circus-themed art, on Saturday, July 24.

The communally run gallery/studio has functioned completely on the effort of the members for almost five years. Lately seven members have contributed. However, the number of artists involved in Art Hospital has fluctuated over the years.

Mark Rice, Shelley Harrison, Will Claytor and Aaron Deer are the key artists who have been around since the opening of the gallery/studio. Rice says about 13 artists helped create, contribute and collaborate in the beginning stages of Art Hospital's life. At that time, there wasn't a place to have mid-size shows in Bloomington, and they saw a need for such a gallery.

"In the beginning it was a really different, mixed collection of people, which caused a lot of problems," Rice, 30, says. "But we had unique shows because of that."

Rice is now in Providence, where he attends school.

Current members also include Nicole Wolfersberger, Jamie Combs, Sally Harless, Luke Woodaman, Dani Orchard and Justin Rhody.

Wolfersberger, 31, who joined at the beginning of last summer, believes there aren't sufficient venues for new artists who aren't affiliated with IU to show their work. And the community will miss the artists that exhibit at Art Hospital. You don't see this art anywhere else, she says.

"I think it will leave a real void when we're gone," she says.


The Red Cross outside the Allen Street gallery meant art, not hospital.

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The Red Cross emblem displayed outside may not signify a hospital, but it is suggestive. The original Art Hospital was located at 1021 S. Walnut St., in a white building with a white room, explains Rice. It sort of resembled a hospital.

"It wasn't a real aesthetic," he says. "We wanted it to be more focused on what was in it, rather than what it was."

The gallery/studio offered low-cost studio space and gave new artists a place to show their work. It was a place for people who couldn't get into other galleries downtown, Wolfersberger says.

Anyone could be involved with Art Hospital. Artists simply submitted resumes and examples of their work. Then the other members voted on them. The revenue came from renting out studio space to members.

"You don't need formal experience," Wolfersberger says. "You just need to be able to present your work well."

However, it was hard to keep people for longer than a few months because Bloomington revolves so heavily around students, she explains.

The members divided responsibilities around the gallery/studio evenly. But everyone worked at booking shows and recruiting new members.

Rice enjoyed having studio and gallery space in the same building and the way it worked together. It's difficult to get the public into your studio, but having the studio and gallery attached made it interesting, he says.

At the old location, Art Hospital would often have live music and an art show together.

"When we could do that, I thought it was really amazing," Rice says.

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Wolfersberger says that's what she'll miss most, the gallery's openness.

"There are no rules whatsoever," she says. "Anyone could have a show or come up with any idea and bring it up to everyone."

Carnivalesque was her idea. She laughs and says when she presented the idea to the other members, they thought, "Sure, if you wanna have circus freaks here, fine."
"I think it will leave a real void when we're gone." - Nicole Wolfersberger, Art Hospital artist
Art Hospital hadn't previously done a show of this type before. Typically artists just submit stuff. But Wolfersberger says this final experiment turned out well, and they should have done it sooner.

She explains it was nice because there was never any pressure to make money at Art Hospital. However, money was a looming issue at the gallery. Art Hospital is closing because of financial difficulties.

"It's always had problems staying afloat," Rice explains. "At one point we got help from BEAD (Bloomington Arts & Entertainment District), a grant to move to a smaller space, because we were having trouble funding the larger one."

Wolfersberger is sad about the closing, but in a way she says it's a relief because the money problems were so tiring. She's met a lot of great friends at Art Hospital and hopes in the future the same artists can start another similar gallery.

"A lot of artists have participated in this space over the years," she says. "We all share really good memories together in this space. I hope we can take it out in the world and share what we've learned here."

Megan Erbacher can be reached at merbache@umail.iu.edu.