The Place to be: New community art center in downtown Concord
By Kelly Sennott
The name of Christa Zuber’s new downtown Concord arts center —
The Place Studio & Gallery — came about after she read an article
by Robert Steuteville on why “place” is the new American Dream.
Not that white picket fences, houses, yards and expensive cars aren’t
important. But Steuteville thinks this generation — who experienced
walkable college neighborhoods with diversity, culture and mixed-use
main streets and downtowns — has come to prefer this over suburbia.
They’re looking for cities with history, charm and character, and where there’s a clear sense of place.
Hence, The Place.
Zuber started the business on a whim; she almost purchased an art center in Abu Dhabi, which is where her sister lives. Her sister had been trying to get Zuber and her husband to make the move, and when that fell through, Zuber was devastated.
“She found this art business for sale, and that’s how this whole conversation started. It kind of started as a joke, but we ended up putting a bid in. … I had this whole idea built up in my head, and then [when they didn’t get it], I didn’t really know what to do. So for a couple of months, I just kind of dropped it,” Zuber said. “But then I thought, why can’t I still stay and do it here?”
So this fall, Zuber quit her job at the OutFITters Thrift Store, got a loan and settled in the quarters that used to house Imagination Village. She opened The Place in late October with the idea that it would become a downtown community art center, a place where people — particularly adults who’d lost their inner artist — could relax and create in a low-key setting.
“In Concord in particular, we have Kimball Jenkins and McGowan, which are great for fine art, but there was nothing this accessible,” Zuber said.
Zuber’s been working to find the balance between fine art and paint bar. She’s seen that paint night events — in Manchester, Portsmouth, Nashua — have been both popular and approachable for New Hampshirites, particularly those who haven’t held a paint brush in a while.
But The Place is a little more open-ended and less expensive. Kind of like a paint-your-own-pottery place, you can stop by at any time, not just when a class is happening, and drop-in costs are $6 for kids, $10 for adults, plus the cost of whatever you’re painting or decorating. If you’re purchasing something from The Place, it could cost as little as $2 and will likely be a canvas, piece of ceramics or cardboard cut-out to decoupage (cutting and gluing with scraps of paper).
Though really, Zuber encourages people to come in, use the materials, tables and chairs and paint whatever they want. Zuber, who used to teach at the Currier Art Center in Manchester, has hosted classes that involved making or decorating alcohol ink tile ceramic coasters, hand-painted and marbleized wine glasses, decoupage shoes, decoupage bangle bracelets, braided silk scarves and hand-painted furniture.
Decorating the bright turquoise walls is artwork by local artists, including Zuber (photography, bags, and photography-adorned pillows), and lying on a table is a half-decoupaged frame with Superman comic book cut-outs, purchased from OutFITters Thrift Store a few buildings down.
At the time of the interview, Zuber was preparing for a busy February. On the to-do list was an open house, a paint night, a handful of date nights and Valentine’s Day workshops and, on Feb. 19, a comic book-themed day.
“We’re partnering with Double Midnight Comics downtown,” Zuber said. “We’ll be decoupaging shoes, frames … with comic books. … Though you can really decoupage anything.”
The goal is to make The Place a quintessential, well, place, for Concord’s downtown. This idea influenced her wanting to find a spot on Main Street, and also her decorating the business’s back room with chalkboards for visitors’ scrawls and messages (“No piece of art can be left without a mess!”) and a gallery space for artwork by Concord’s school kids.
It’s been scary, but exciting too.
“Some days, it’s really frightening, but most days, it’s really exciting to build something truly yours,” Zuber said. “For a lot of people, it’s scary to take that leap and to leave behind a steady paycheck, but it has so many rewards. What you’re building is yours, and that’s exciting.”
As seen in the February 5, 2015 issue of the Hippo
Christa Zuber at The Place Studio & Gallery. Kelly Sennott photo.