It's been rough recently for San Diego art galleries. Alexander Salazar Fine Art downsized, Noel-Baza Fine Art shut down to focus on pop-up shows and art fairs and Scott White Contemporary Art closed its public gallery in favor of a more private business.
Add metalsmith jewelry artists and partners Matthew Cirello and Jasmine Lee to the list of gallerists looking at alternative ways to keep things afloat. Cirello has operated North Park's Positive Space (formerly Cirello Gallery) as a handmade-jewelry store and fine-art gallery since 2008. A handful of resident artists have rented out studios and showrooms inside Positive Space, but Cirello has mainly treated the business like a commercial gallery, planning show openings to coincide with Ray at Night, the longtime monthly art walk that takes place every second Saturday, and taking commissions from art sales.
Positive Space looked like it was on its way out for good in July, when Cirello and Lee sent an email telling customers they'd be celebrating their last Ray at Night and moving their Cirello Metalsmith workshop to Jamul so they could focus on making jewelry and selling more custom and wholesale work.
Since then, however, Cirello has decided to try to continue operating the space for the four years remaining on the lease. He's looking to sublet and says he'd like to keep the space dedicated to art, partly because the 1,400-square-foot gallery is so prominently located—on the corner of Ray Street and North Park Way—and is considered one of the mainstay galleries keeping the neighborhood's art vibe alive.
"It's absolutely an anchor location," agrees Tee Taylor, a Ray Street business owner and the chair of North Park for the Arts, which runs Ray at Night. "We certainly hope they can find artists and creative individuals to rent it and keep things going."
Cirello says that he and Lee will still move their headquarters to Jamul to meet increasing demand for their jewelry, but they're going to take time to find the right renters. He thinks the space might work best not as a public gallery but as private working studios for a cooperative of artists who can open by appointment and for Ray at Night.
If he has to, Cirello says, he'll rent the space to a non-arts-related business like a café or restaurant.
"Our hope, though, is to keep it art-oriented," Cirello says. "I see this opportunity on Ray Street as a stepping stone... After you've found your clients, you can move on. This space has been amazing, and we wouldn't be where we are without it. But it's time to pass it on to people who need it."