Electronic mood music and energetic art voices quaked out of the Crown Building during June’s Final Friday, providing a sharp contrast to the quiet rain blowing across Over-the-Rhine.
That night, a miniature red door hung near the Crown’s entrance and stood out against the hues of Findlay Market across the street. But the woman on the other side of the building’s front doors blended into her gallery surroundings beautifully.
In a swing dress the same color as the hanging door, Barbara Hauser greeted guests (almost 300 of them throughout the night) with her inviting laugh. She was welcoming them to The Red Door Project — a monthly pop-up gallery, local artist enclave and point of pride to many supporting community members — her brainchild.
“Now when someone asks me what’s new with me, I can always tell them,” Hauser says.
A Procter & Gamble community relations manager by day, photographer by night and gallery organizer by weekend, Hauser founded The Red Door Project in February as a means to promote accessible, local art for anyone who wants to make, sell or buy it — juried approval never required.
“What’s so good about it is that it produces a dialogue, a socially creative process,” says Mike Fleisch, a Red Door contributing artist and buyer. “It brings art down from something high society and brings the creative community together.”
Which has been Hauser’s foremost goal from the beginning.
Since opening the first show in a vacant gallery space on Vine Street five months ago, the number of participating artists has steadily swelled for each show, and so has the number of pieces sold.
Though photographs and paintings are favorited genres among contributors, Hauser accepts — and highly encourages — submissions via various mediums as long as they fit well within each month’s set theme. (June’s was “Stairways and Alleyways;” July’s, “Freedom.”)
“The first month we had about 30 pieces and a lot of those were mine,” Hauser says. “I had a lot of friends and I was like, ‘Hmm, I think you’re going to participate.’ ”
Through enthusiasm generated by the first Red Door Project gallery show — complete with donated foods, wines and a photo booth feature — and the help of branded advertising and Hauser-manned social media sites, veteran artists have been returning to the gallery as new ones contribute for the first time.
“I’ve had people participate in every one and they’ve sold in every one,” Hauser says.
“[In May] I’d say half the artists were new artists, so it’s been super cool to see how it’s kind of transitioned. We’ve had some artists who’ve had some higher-priced pieces that didn’t sell and they still were like, ‘This was great exposure and we had a really good time participating.’ ”
During the most recent show in June, 66 works by 26 artists were showcased and 42 were sold to the highest silent-auction bidders.
Hauser isn’t in it for the money — she charges artists only 25 percent of their profits to fund the changing gallery spaces. Instead, she’s in it for the creativity it inspires.
“I love that it gives artists creative constraints to work within,” Fleisch says. “Isn’t that what we’re all looking for? To see a bunch of people responding differently to the same prompt.”
Also: the connections.
“I feel like I just keep meeting new people and discovering new artists, and so I’m saying we’ve gone international,” Hauser says. “I have a friend who’s from Cincinnati — actually, her parents own Churchill’s Tea Room in Findlay Market — whose husband is a photographer, but they live in London. He sent me things and I’m going to print and hang them.”
In addition to those who regularly volunteer to setup the show (like Jens Rosenkrantz, a Cincinnati-based fine art photographer and owner of La Poste Eatery and Django Western Taco, and Justin Willenbrink, a brand manager at AGAR advertising agency), a five-person team affiliated with area businesses like 3CDC, FotoFocus and P&G make up the Red Door Project’s advisory committee.
Anastasia Mileham, Besty Hodges, Josh Heuser, Tysonn Betts and Susie Brand gathered for a cocktail party around this time last year to set Hauser’s pop-up plan in motion.
“It was just several of my friends and me,” Hauser says. “We had a little party and everyone had a great time.”
Her plan took the form of a dream-seed, planted more than a decade ago when she first submitted her own photographs to a similar type of show, The Projects gallery on Clay Street, which is now closed.
“I mean, I’m sure people would debate this with me, but I don’t consider myself an artist,” Hauser says. “I’ve always been very attracted to the creative culture, creativity and the gallery let me be creative and express myself in different ways, so I started participating.”
Which, in 1993, meant submitting work under a “series” theme.
She lived on the top of Milton Street in Prospect Hill, knew how to work a digital camera and fell in love with four red doors.
Hauser edited them, framed them and showcased them in the gallery. You can guess where this is going.
“Someone bought my four doors then,” Hauser says. “They were all together, so I have a second set of those four doors and have it reframed. I have it in the gallery each month as a reminder of my progress.”
Approaching a six-month anniversary, scouting for new gallery spaces and selling pieces in the range of $15-$595, Hauser has progressed greatly.
“The first [show] I did was a little overwhelming, but I’m learning and improving the process,” she says.
When the music had stopped and the chatter had slowed at the close of the most recent Red Door show, Milton Red’s red doors were left proudly exhibited at the Crown among empty beer bottles, a freshly filled guest book and artworks that would soon be picked up by new owners of local art.
“If people reach out to me, I’ve never told anyone no,” Hauser says. “Because that’s the point.” ©
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