Goodyear Arts nearly closed due to inflexible building codes. Now it’s booming

Goodyear Arts nearly closed due to inflexible building codes. Now it’s booming
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At the back of the new Goodyear Arts location at Camp North End, past the workshops and exhibition displays, is a set of two water fountains.

Nobody uses them. There’s a perfectly good office-style cooler for the artists’ hydration purposes. In fact, there’s a sign warning against using the drinking fountains.

But Goodyear Arts wouldn’t be able to operate without them. Their installation was part of $23,000 of unexpected repairs and upfits the nonprofit art gallery needed to legally open to the public.

That’s a big chunk of money for a low-budget operation. Goodyear Arts is funded by a three-year grant from the Knight Foundation — enough to pay for artist residencies and mentorship, but not any building construction.

After losing nearly half a year, Goodyear Arts is now up and running again. Several dozen artists regularly work out of the old warehouse space, chipping in on chores to help make things run smoothly.

That makes Goodyear Arts a success story, but also a warning. Charlotte is full of old warehouses ready to be repurposed. But building codes and their inflexible interpretation could make that difficult.

“We as a city and county seem to interpret this very strictly,” says Goodyear Arts co-director Amy Bagwell. “That doesn’t allow for anything imaginative.”

This is Goodyear Arts’ first permanent home.

The project launched in summer 2015 in the old Goodyear building at Tryon and Stonewall streets, hence the name. Crescent Communities let artists take over the building for several months before it was torn down to make way for a new high-rise development.

When that came down, Goodyear Arts moved over to a building donated by Daniel Levine on North College Street. They later became one of the first tenants in donated space from ATCO, the New York developer that’s putting together Camp North End.

That property has unfinished space to spare, and Goodyear Arts doesn’t need much. Just some overhead lighting, a concrete floor and some partitions to create the workshops for artists in residency.

But city and county inspectors said they needed much more.

Last year, the fire department came in during a performance and told Goodyear Arts that it couldn’t be open to the public until it was up to code. That started a six-month tussle with city and county inspectors over just what needed to be done.

“We’ve essentially been dark,” Bagwell said.

There weren’t safety issues, Goodyear Arts leadership said. Just code issues.

Instead of getting a list of these issues to address from the code enforcement officials, Goodyear was required to put together a plan guessing at them all and get approval. It took about four or five back-and-forths to get everything settled.

A roll-up door needed to be drywalled over and regular swinging doors put in the middle. A new wheelchair ramp was installed that’s closer to the door and with a different slope than the one they had before. Lighting was re-wired. Several doors were changed to swing the other direction.

And, of course, that drinking fountain was installed.

On June 1, 2018, Goodyear Arts got the go-ahead.

Finally, with some donated time and equipment, Goodyear Arts was able to get everyone satisfied.

“We’ve just relaunched,” Bagwell said.

Today, the halls are filled with nearly 30 artists hard at work, in mediums varying from textiles to massive hanging displays. Three artists are in residence at the moment, meaning they get a $1,500 stipend and $500 in materials and host an exhibition at the end.

On September 7 will be Goodyear’s first showcase from their summertime artists in residence. HNin Nie, Stacy Utley, and Liliya Zalevskaya will be exhibiting their paintings, sculptures, silkscreened fabrics and mixed-media collages.

They’ll show what art can be created inside old warehouses. Perhaps in the future, Charlotte will make it easier to make art out of old warehouses as well.

“I hope we will become a place that lets people take old buildings and do cool things with them,” Bagwell said.

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