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Boston Common: The Hallway Gallery’s Brent Refsland

As part of our continued effort to foster strong communities, we're rolling out a new interview series, called "Boston Common." In it we will highlight the people and organizations that shape Boston and New England's cultural sector by going straight to the source to find out who they are, what they are doing, and how and why they do it. We hope that the series will champion some of the exemplary work being done, shed light on neglected issues facing our arts scene and community, build connections among individuals and organizations, and expand the networks on which we’ve come to rely. In this installment, we talk to The Hallway Gallery's Brent Refsland.

Tell us about The Hallway Gallery. What's its mission and focus, how does it differ from other organizations of its kind, and how does it operate?

Before opening the gallery in May of 2009, I had been living in Boston for just a few months. During the transition of moving from Austin, Texas to Jamaica Plain, I often found myself reflecting on the dream of opening an art gallery. The opportunity to open such a space became a reality after stumbling upon a narrow, vacant storefront on South Street. Just ten days after signing the lease and a quick renovation, The Hallway Gallery opened with a group show featuring my new photography series and a few other artists from Jamaica Plain. Within the first year of opening, most of my attention went into organizing monthly group exhibitions. This approach gave dozens of Boston artists the opportunity to share their work in this forgotten space turned unique JP gallery. Over time, I put more attention into studio visits, curating shows, and refining the focus of the gallery. Looking forward, I continue to put emphasis on solo exhibitions with more of a curatorial approach and awareness to my own eye.

Quenby Bucklaew's solo printmaking exhibition in December 2013. Courtesy of The Hallway Gallery.

Tell us why and how you established The Hallway Gallery. What did you do before, and how did that work equip you for the work you do now?

After receiving my Bachelor of Fine Arts from Arizona State University in 2005, I moved to Austin. While exhibiting my photography in galleries and businesses, I became inspired to create my own space to host events and art openings. Upon my arrival to Jamaica Plain in 2008, I noticed a lack of galleries in what was supposedly a neighborhood filled with artists and creative types. Searching for a way to tap into the Boston art scene, but also wanting to fill a cultural void in Jamaica Plain, I decided to open The Hallway Gallery. Unaware of the overall scope and responsibility of running a gallery, I spent the initial years learning a tremendous amount of the nuances necessary to operating a successful gallery. In a way, opening The Hallway was equivalent to attending graduate school.

What are your plans for The Hallway Gallery in the coming year?

It’s been rewarding watching The Hallway evolve over the past five years. I kicked off 2014 with Clint Baclawski’s stellar photographic light mural installation that spanned the entire length of the gallery. His show will be followed up with a month long exhibition featuring photography and sculpture by Bahar Yurukoglu, whose work is currently included in the Biennial at the deCordova Sculpture Park & Museum. In April, the gallery will be filled with sketches, paintings, and wall drawings by John Guthrie, one of my favorite Boston artists who has been painting for nearly 25 years. We’ll be celebrating The Hallway’s five year anniversary with Building Material, a thesis exhibition by Emma Rhodes, a student at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Emma’s series of sculptural textiles referencing construction materials will be on display throughout the month of May. Over the summer, an ambitious group exhibition will fill the space. In September, Meredith Kasabian and Josh Luke, owners of Best Dressed Signs, a Boston-based "all-by-hand" sign painting company, will showcase their independent works. They also plan to host lectures and other special events revolving around their focus and expertise. As always, I will continue searching New England for other emerging and talented artists carving their way into the Boston art scene.

Reading Event during Sarah Rushford's solo show in November 2013. Courtesy of The Hallway Gallery.

What are some challenges you face, and how are you working to address them? What's your biggest need right now?

I took a significant risk opening a gallery in the midst of the largest recession of my generation. I was faced with many challenges on a daily basis, from how to successfully market this small gallery to building a supportive client-base, while making sure I could pay the expenses, all on a small budget. Currently, time management is my biggest challenge. While continuing to develop The Hallway Gallery, in the fall of 2011, I opened Room 68, a contemporary furniture and design store. Delegating some of my workload has played an important role in finding a balance while building both businesses. With plans to launch the second location of Room 68 in Provincetown this May, I continue to create a dependable and trustworthy team of interns and employees best fit to represent the businesses.

What advice do you have for someone looking to follow in your footsteps? What do you wish you knew when you first started out?

I would advise anyone wanting to open a gallery to make sure there is a clear objective and desire behind the project. For me it was creating a platform for young artists in a vibrant neighborhood lacking such a space. Believe in yourself and have a tremendous amount patience while building your concept. Be ready to work hard and learn a lot along the way.

Boston artist Tim McCool posing in front of Trouble, his solo exhibition in September 2013, which highlighted 185 original drawings from his new book. Courtesy of The Hallway Gallery.

Name one challenge that the Boston cultural sector faces, and how you’d suggest fixing it.

Instead of being submissive to the cultural epicenter of New York City, I believe Boston needs to stand up, collaborate, and celebrate everything this city is and has to offer. In the five short years of living here, I’ve witnessed young entrepreneurs, artists, and innovators come together to help shed light on the immense talent and potential of our generation who call Boston home.

Tell us about one cultural event/exhibition or organization/individual(other than your own) that has exceeded your expectations recently. What work are they doing, and why is it important?

Design Museum Boston continues to impress me with their overall mission to educate the community with the many facets of design that surround us each day. Sam Aquillano and his dedicated team’s fresh approach to share their new concept is exactly what is needed to excite the creative core of Boston. Their scope is vast and should not go unnoticed.


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