In a typical week, Public may host an art opening, vendor market, movie screening, open mic, poetry slam, collage night, and dinner prepared by a local chef. Driving past the little second-store gallery on Aleppo Street, you might never suspect such a busy schedule.
But when Casandra Inez and Spocka Summa opened their new space in Olneyville last September, they hit the ground running. Public is larger than it looks; the gallery combines multiple alcoves, which are decked with paintings, photographs, and rotating murals. Each month, Public presents a new exhibit, and the walls are repainted with brand-new portraits. In the front, Public is more like a curio shop, with books by Jess Tracey, vintage clothing by Junque Shop, and other locally made ephemera. Their young daughter is a regular fixture, toddling across the rustic wood floors.
“There was a need,” says Inez. “We were missing a place like this. When you find yourself in that situation, one of the things you can do is create it. There’s places here and there, but we wanted to add to that community.”
Inez grew up in North Providence, Summa in Silver Lake, and they met in high school. Their life together has been an endless mashup of creative pursuits: Inez performs poetry and dabbles in painting and photography. Summa is a prolific event producer, musician, and visual artist. In the past, they have facilitated concerts and pop-up markets – but Public allows them to concentrate their efforts under one roof.
“How can we do something that’s more consistent and frequent?” SSumma recalls asking himself. “We let artists choose what they want to hang. They don’t have to be here to sell their stuff. It’s kind of a way to take the weight off the artists’ shoulders.”
Public also rents out the space for a variety of events – screenings, album release parties, groove nights – that the couple doesn’t have to personally run. This is a notable addition to Olneyville, where nightlife and startups have started to blossom, but a gallery is a novel opportunity for local artists and their supporters.
“A lot of our artists say this is the first time they’ve shown to the public,” says Inez. “And we have a lot of foot-traffic. People walking by live here. They’re not looking for art. They come in and say, ‘What’s in here now? We’ve never been here.’ They get to walk through and discover us for the first time.”
“That’s why we always ask people how they heard about us,” Inez adds. “We have more of a reach than we know.”