Though a pandemic may not be the easiest time to open an art gallery, Christopher Kelly and Keith MacLelland are handling it with aplomb.
“We started the lease back in January, pre-Covid,” Kelly says. “This space became available, and it made sense, so we pulled the trigger and did it. Simple as that. We didn’t go into it with any real expectations.”
Longstreet Gallery, which is located right next to Willy’s Gym in Eastham, is having a Labor Day Weekend show of 12-by-12-inch artworks, featuring 40 artists from on and off Cape. It runs from Saturday, Sept. 5, through Sept. 27.
The gallery’s name references Route 6 and the S.S. Longstreet, a target ship whose wreckage still lies in Cape Cod Bay. Though Rustored Salvage, an antiques shop, used to inhabit the space, there are few traces left.
“We put hundreds of hours into the renovation of the building,” MacLelland says. “That was before we even got around to hanging art on the walls, or, before that, making art to hang on the walls.”
The result is eye-opening: the white walls of the front room are the perfect canvas for hanging art. The space is made only more charming by its low ceilings, characteristic to the Outer Cape. The back room serves as a studio for Kelly and MacLelland, but they encourage stragglers to look in.
This was especially the case for the gallery’s first shows, Kelly’s “Out on a Sandbar” and MacLelland’s “Float,” back in June. “It becomes more experiential than going to a traditional gallery space, where you have four white walls and beautiful work,” MacLelland says of the open studio. “You can see the actual process of things being made. People can come back and touch and feel and see.”
Kelly, an artist and graphic designer who leads the design and production team of the Independent, has lived in Eastham for the past four years. MacLelland, a professor of illustration at Lesley University, grew up on the Cape, and has lived in Wellfleet since 2013. MacLelland says that opening the gallery was “serendipitously perfect timing, despite Covid,” because it coincided with his sabbatical.
“The gallery is two minutes from Chris’s house, eight minutes from mine,” says MacLelland. “It’s an easy commute, and great location.”
Great, but rare: Eastham is not a gallery town.
Though there are a couple of home galleries in Eastham, “they’re not programming exhibitions in a traditional sense,” says MacLelland. “In a way, we are sort of swimming upstream. Eastham is not known for the arts. Provincetown certainly is, as is Wellfleet.”
On the other hand, rent is cheaper in Eastham. There are more young people and families. Nearby Nauset Regional High School may offer future opportunities for interns or collaborations.
For the Labor Day Weekend show, Kelly and MacLelland chose 40 artists. Some are Provincetown veterans with galleries, such as Adam Peck, Mark Adams, Pete Hocking, Jerome Greene, and Vicky Tomayko, while others are relative newcomers, such as Aiden Dutton, a student at MassArt.
“About 20 to 25 artists are from Cape Cod, Boston, Rhode Island,” Kelly says. “The other 15 are from all over the country.”
“There are a lot of galleries on the Outer Cape, but there seems to be a lot of overlap in the kind of work that they show,” says MacLelland. “A goal of ours is to break out of that. We’re definitely interested in showing work that is not traditionally what you would see out here.”
Even though Longstreet has relied on the beleaguered U.S. Postal Service to deliver the foot-square planks for the Labor Day Weekend show, delays have not been a problem. The unboxing has been particularly fun. “You never know what you are going to get from people,” says Kelly.
The gallery isn’t trying to compete with the Provincetown Art Association and Museum’s “12×12” show, an annual fund-raiser. “It didn’t even factor in,” says Kelly. Instead, “it’s an organizing principle,” requiring artists to follow certain constraints, and maximizing space in the gallery.
The two owner-directors are web-savvy. “From day one, whatever is on the sales floor is online as well,” says MacLelland. “We have seen a lot of sales on our website.” It doesn’t hurt that the square 12-by-12 medium works well on Instagram.
Kelly and MacLelland say that not a lot of people come into the gallery off the highway. The majority learn about it from social media or word of mouth.
In terms of openings, the pandemic has imposed some constraints. “There aren’t cheese cubes and wine,” says MacLelland. “That part is a bummer, but at the last opening we had, there was a family out back who set up a blanket. Kids playing around. People brought coolers.”
Only eight people at a time are allowed inside the gallery, including Kelly and MacLelland, so tailgating outside is inevitable. The opening on Saturday is likely to be pretty busy, but the atmosphere is always easygoing.
“I’ve had the experience where I’ve walked into a gallery and it is pretty stiff,” says MacLelland. “You don’t feel like you belong. That’s not it at all here. We’re trying to be casual and inviting and welcoming.”
The event: Labor Day Weekend show featuring 12-by-12-inch artworks by 40 artists
The time: Opening Saturday, Sept. 5, noon to 9 p.m., the work is on view through Sept. 27; gallery hours are Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 6 p.m., or by appointment at longstreetgallery.com
The place: Longstreet Gallery, 4730B U.S. 6, Eastham
The cost: Free; bring your own picnic