DIY Index:

VINEGAR in Birmingham, Alabama

By May 03, 2019
For the Sake of Transparency, an installation at Magic City Art Connection from April 26 – April 28. (All images courtesy of VINEGAR.)

Birmingham, Alabama
Hours vary per event

Nancy Friedemann-Sánchez’s Casta Paintings on view at Halsey Institute in Charleston through July16

Operated by: Ryan Meyer, Ann Trondson, and Melissa Yes

Opened: October 2018

Most recent exhibitions: For the Sake of Transparency (April 26-28); Screen Time (January 31); Open Vinegar (December 8, 2018)

How has being a nomadic space been helpful or harmful?

Nancy Friedemann-Sánchez’s Casta Paintings on view at Halsey Institute in Charleston through July16

It has been both helpful and harmful for our goals. It has helped us to break from convention, to problem solve and generate new connections with audiences who might not otherwise attend art exhibitions. However, we have to scramble to find space and time, and we are itching for the perceived legitimacy that comes with having a dedicated physical space.

There has been a lot of excitement growing in Birmingham lately. What do you think that is coming from? What are you looking forward to in Birmingham?

We think the renewed interest in downtown Birmingham speaks to our communities’ longing for culture and connection. There are voids here that need to be filled in, in terms of art and otherwise, and people are stepping up to meet those needs.

While we think that many urban centers are enjoying renewed attention right now, Birmingham’s renaissance has been drastic because our city center was so noticeably underutilized for many years. People have begun to return to downtown as a cultural hub. A lot of the credit goes to big development projects like the Regions Field baseball stadium and Railroad Park, and honestly we have to give the Free the Hops movement a lot of credit — when beer laws loosened, the community enjoyed the development of new breweries, bars, and restaurants in areas that hadn’t yet been home to such businesses—but let’s sit down sometime and have an entirely different conversation about gentrification.

What are we looking forward to in Birmingham? A brick-and-mortar space for VINEGAR. More artists, more art, more expanded types of art. A completed I-20-59 reconstruction project. More public space. More collaboration. Commitment to social justice. Real conversations about redlining, public transportation, imprisonment, homelessness, jobs, environmental protection. A robust city- and region-wide recycling program. Affordable housing. More connection, more joy. A few vegan restaurants would be nice, too (maybe that’s just Melissa).

A lot of artist-run spaces position themselves against an institution or institutional idea. Does VINEGAR feel like it’s in opposition to a certain type of institutionality?

Institutions can do things we can’t and vice-versa. We have many friends at the Birmingham Museum of Art and at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. These institutions (and others) are important resources for art in our city and they do good work. What we do is simply different from what institutions do; VINEGAR offers a counterpoint in our spontaneity, our experimentation, and our autonomy that allows to show the work that we think really needs to be seen, no matter who agrees or disagrees with us. 

VINEGAR wants art to be part of actual life, not placed at a hushed distance from our homes, hair salons, bowling alleys, gyms, and parties. We love art, and we want to help connect new art with people in Birmingham. We want to show art that surprises us, makes us uncomfortable, makes us laugh, makes us think, makes us dance. We insist on maintaining the freedom to show art that is weird, unprecious, political, non-commercial, underground, annoying, groundbreaking, boundary-bending, and typically unseen around here. It is easier for us to do that if we are free from the stakeholder concerns that limit larger institutions.

Do you think VINEGAR will always remain a transient space, or are there fixed plans in the works?

We wish we had fixed plans in the works, but we aren’t there yet. We hope to establish a brick and mortar space by the end of the year. Our task right now is to figure out how to fund it. Until then, we will continue organizing happenings in various cheap or free venues across the city. We think the most important thing about VINEGAR is the artists and programming we hope to offer the city of Birmingham.  We think Birmingham needs to see artists who are striving for change, who are engaging critical issues, who are working in unconventional formats, and who are going to provoke connection, joy, and contemplation for people our city. We’re working to connect Birmingham to national and international art communities even if it means we have to keep finding free garages, elevators, streets, and living rooms to do it.

Melissa Yes, pouring VINEGAR, 2019; video introduction to VINEGAR events.
Experimental projection by Melissa Yes at Open Vinegar, December 2018.
Screen Time, an evening of short films and video art by VINEGAR at Tim Tab Brewing Company, January 2019.
Video art screening hosted by Vinegar as part of Magic City Art Connection, April 2019.
VINEGAR members Ann Trondson, Melissa Yes, Ryan Meyer inside their installation For the Sake of Transparency, April 2019.

VINEGAR is currently creating a limited edition zine to be released later this summer with a launch party at Freedom House in Birmingham. In October, VINEGAR will chair a panel conversation—”Now is the time, Here is the Place”—at SECAC in Chattanooga, and will participate in an exchange with C for Courtside (Knoxville, TN) in November.

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