“I never wanted to own a gallery,” says Jacob “Reptile” Martin, intertwining his arms like the shy kid on the playground. At 26, he is young to be the owner of an art gallery and studio space. With his boyish smile and blonde hair, he could pass for one still in college.
He purchased 934 Montegut Street last May with the idea of converting it into an artist residence and studio space. But once artists started to come into the space to create, they began to push to use it for shows. The house was used as nine separate one-bedrooms in the past, so it already has been split up in a way that makes sense for artist studios.
“Sometimes we debate over how big each studio will be,” Jacob told me, “trying to figure out where one wall will end and another will begin.”
Aquarium Gallery and Studios had its grand opening last October as a part of Prospect 2. It has since become a hit, but is still very much a work in progress.
As of now, the front of the house is functional. Jacob uses one room as his loft and studio. Four artists share the other two rooms. There is a living room and foyer, which function as the gallery space. The rest of the house remains at various stages of construction, most of it gutted to the studs.
Jacob has offered work exchanges with the different artists who use the house as a studio or the artists who use it as a gallery. But he’s found that, while most artists like the idea of exchanging labor for art space, it’s a different story when it’s actually time to put on a tyvex suit and install insulation in a New Orleans attic.
“Sometimes I get overwhelmed thinking about how much needs to get done,” Jacob says with a smile.
Bringing artists into the neighborhood inspired Jacon’s project in the first place, and that is what keeps it going. The installation currently on display, Vital Organ, came via an unexpected knock on the door.
“The people from Trouser House told them about me, I think,” Jacob says.
However the connection was made, Ashley Daniels and Kara Murphy have created an interactive multimedia piece where playing with light creates sound. The last show will be held Saturday, June 2, from 6 p.m.-until.
The Aquarium Gallery and Studios will be having a live music show on Monday starting at 7 p.m., featuring two touring bands, Roamer x and Aloonaluna, and two local bands, Healing Center and Transmuteo.
There is still a lot of work to be done to finish the house (volunteers are welcome, so contact Jacob through his facebook page), but the dream is already being realized. Artists, both local and from afar, are using the space to create and show new works.
Matthew Sheard of 1239 Congress writes bimonthly for NolaVie.