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Old seedhouse, new vision for artists, gallery space

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According to sculptor, performer, and video artist Michael Casselli, his New York apartment would fit several times over in the new space he has leased in the Millworks Business Center on North Walnut Street.

“I wouldn’t be able to afford (a comparable space in) New York,” Casselli said on a recent tour through the labyrinth of rooms featuring exposed beams, concrete floors, and 12-foot high ceilings.

It’s particularly fitting that a former storehouse for the DeWine Seed Company is positioned to become a storehouse for the seeds of future artistic endeavors.

“I think of this multi-functioning space as being open to artists coming in and having a place to develop work,” said Casselli, a 1987 Antioch grad who just moved back to Yellow Springs in September. His ideas for using the space include developing and staging projects for alternative spaces, media development for said projects, and technical workshops.

“I use a lot of technology in what I do and I can make these things available to artists,” he added.

After graduating from Antioch, Casselli received his graduate degree in sculpture from Rhode Island School of Design and has worked as a set builder, designer, and production coordinator in Los Angeles and New York. He has also done installation projects of his own work in addition to joint ventures with internationally known visual and performance artists.

“One of the reasons I left New York is because I couldn’t realize my own work,” said Casselli. “Having a space means I can produce my own work and can also plug into the programming ideas for Imminent Domain.”

Imminent Domain, a nonprofit organization, is the creative brainchild of Casselli and a core group of Yellow Springs artists who aim to nurture emerging and established artists in the region and connect them to each other and to the larger world of contemporary art.

The idea was hatched in June during a fortuitous collision of sweet and sour events. Casselli returned to Yellow Springs for the annual Antioch College reunion shortly before the college officially closed. Just prior to the visit, he had learned from his former Antioch College academic advisor Karen Shirley and former Antioch drawing instructor Michael Jones that their Shirley/Jones Gallery at 235 Corry Street would be closing. Also during his visit, Casselli learned about the space available at Millworks.

“Somewhere in the middle of all this, Michael decided to move here,” said Jones, a long-time friend of Casselli’s and a ceramic artist and sculptor who also leases space at Millworks. “In New York you’re on a dead run all the time trying to make your rent money and it’s for a small amount of space. Michael saw how much space there was [at Millworks] and how affordable it was.”

After the reunion, Casselli, Jones and five other local artists — Tony Dallas, Migiwa Orimo, Chris Hill, Brian Springer, and Karen Shirley — held weekly telephone conferences and began to envision a program that would utilize the rough project development space of Casselli’s Millworks facility along with the pristine gallery space of the Corry Street building.

Jones and his partner, Karen Shirley, opened the Shirley/Jones Gallery in June 2004 and operated it up until this past winter, when a family medical crisis forced them to reassess how and where they wanted to focus their energy and resources. They have pulled their gallery operation out of the Corry Street space but continue to do private art dealing with clients across the country.

“Karen and I don’t own that building,” said Jones, who described the owner as a good friend as well as a friend of the arts, who bought the building, paid for the renovation and was very helpful to Jones and Shirley during the four years that they operated the gallery. If Imminent Domain obtains sufficient funding, it can lease the building and preserve it as a gallery and visual arts resource for the community.

Former director of the Wright State and University of Akron art galleries, Jones sees the gallery space as particularly arts-friendly.

“Karen and I redesigned the whole space,” explained Jones, who oversaw the entire renovation project in 2003–04. “There was a furnace with lots of duct work. All that came out. It’s got a radiant heat system in the floor, which makes the space visually tidier. It also means you’re not moving dust around, which is an issue with art and its care. We put a lot of insulation in so it’s very economical to operate.” The space has air conditioning, heating, a security system, and is also handicap-accessible.

In just the few weeks since his move to Yellow Springs, Casselli has already begun renovation of his Millworks space as well as an adjoining workspace that is being leased to the Nonstop Liberal Arts Institute. The founding members of Imminent Domain are currently looking for sources of funding.

“Our idea is to connect to a larger discussion of the arts not only here but with the rest of the country,” said Casselli.

For more information about Imminent Domain, contact Michael Casselli at 310-467-9223.


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