It was a sunny Friday afternoon when the phone rang at the Big RED offices in Jamaica Plain. On the other end of the line was Tim Bailey from Oni Gallery, calling with a simple message: “We won’t be re-opening.”
It has been over a year now that Oni has struggled to recover from the blow dealt them by city inspectional services. Having been kicked around Boston for some time, from losing their first venue on Kingston Street to the wrecking ball to eventually finding their current Washington Street space, Oni has proven much more resilient than most. However, despite their dogged efforts to work with the city and their landlord to make Oni a functional venue, it appears that they have finally reached the limit.
As recently as a week ago it appeared that everything was in order for a grand re-opening, and Big RED & Shiny was already drafting a happy news item about bright futures and rising Phoenix and other optimistic sentiments. However, that was before the final inspection, which looked to be the ultimate vindication of Oni’s hard work, but has instead proven to be the death blow to another of Boston’s experimental spaces.
Oni Gallery gained attention as a venue willing to take great risks with its programming, and as an outlet for many young and experimental works. Their gallery, performance and studio spaces featured a long list of impressive names from around the globe. Non-Event, K’vetch and Past Forward all called Oni home, and their many Salon and group shows brought a vibrant crowd to Chinatown regularly.
At this point, Boston can only sit back and watch with it’s fingers crossed. While Oni has fought to regain its public venue, other organizations who suffered a similar fate have gone on to find other forms of involvement with the city and the arts. The Berwick Research Institute has become a strong residency program, offering support in myriad ways. Mobius has transitioned from a venue to a programming group, offering support that keeps the community alive and thriving. There is no doubt that Oni will continue to inspire the artists of Boston, but only time will tell what their new role will be.
Oni director Lydia Eccles will issue a full press release in the coming weeks, Bailey said, outlining the future of Oni and its programs.