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Proteus Gowanus Art Center Closing After 10 Years in Business

 Co-creative directors Tamara Pittman and Sasha Chavchavadze are closing the interdisciplinary space.
Proteus Gowanus Art Center Closing After 10 Years in Business
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GOWANUS — The interdisciplinary arts venue Proteus Gowanus is closing after 10 years in business, its leaders announced Sunday.

Co-creative directors Tamara Pittman and Sasha Chavchavadze said in a message to supporters that the venue's current exhibition will be its final one and will end on June 28.

Pittman and Chavchavadze told DNAinfo New York that running Proteus Gowanus had been an "enriching" experience, but that they weren't interested in taking on the demands of turning Proteus into an institution that would require permanent staff and nearly round-the-clock fundraising.

“A lot of these small creative organizations that are labors of love kind of reach a point where you feel like you either have to decide you're going to become an institution, or you decide you don't want to lose that creative spark," Pittman said. "So you choose to close.”

Chavchavadze, an artist, founded Proteus Gowanus in 2005 with her husband, PK Ramani. Pittman joined the organization in 2008.

Sometimes called an "an interdisciplinary gallery and reading room," Proteus Gowanus defied easy labels. It blurred the lines between gallery, performance space, library, workshop, and museum, Pittman said.

Proteus Gowanus hosted exhibits and events that were guided by a different theme every year. This year's theme is "Commerce" and the current exhibition, "Gowanus Market Place," sells objects made by local artists, including a fly swatter designed to get rid of extra-large flies found around the Gowanus Canal, Chavchavadze said.

Past themes have included "Water," "Migration," and "Battle," which had artists finding inspiration from the Revolutionary War's pivotal Battle of Brooklyn, which happened just steps away from the Proteus Gowanus building at 543 Union St., near Nevins Street.

Proteus has also served as a host and incubator for projects that have grown and taken on a life of their own. The Morbid Anatomy Museum on Seventh Street and Third Avenue was once a small windowless library inside Proteus Gowanus. The Fixers Collective, a group that helps people mend household items, started when the theme at Proteus was "Mend."

The goal of Proteus Gowanus was to create a collaborative environment full of "warmth and humanity," that offered isolated artists a chance to both meet other creators and exhibit their work, said Pittman and Chavchavadze.

"Proteus was a place where artists could walk in off the street and have a chance to show their work — that's huge, especially in New York," Chavchavadze said.

But Proteus wasn't just for artists. It attracted scientists and historians as well.

Eymund Diegel, an urban planner, contributed several items to Proteus' The Hall of the Gowanus, a set of artifacts about the polluted canal and its history. Officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency even brought in a sludge sample for collection.

Though Proteus Gowanus is coming to a close, Pittman and Chavchavadze said other artists shouldn't be deterred from launching similar ventures.

"It's model for how you can do an amazing project with nothing really," Chavchavadze said. "You can just make it work with a lot of sheer determination and elbow grease."

The two leaders also noted that the Proteus Gowanus building will remain in the hands of artists. The building has about 40 artist's studios and is also home to Claireware Pottery and Cabinet magazine.

Chavchavadze and 19 other artists banded together in 2005 to buy the former box factory when it was put up for sale.

"The reason that Proteus could exist is because [the building] is owned by artists," Chavchavadze said. "On an upbeat note, that building is never going to change, because we saved it.”