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Look up!
Look up!
Artwork by Jamey Grimes / Photography by Lauren Lightbody

ArtsUP in Fort Lauderdale: New FAT Village Gallery Doubles as an Event Space

ArtsUP is the latest addition to the increasingly popular FAT Village in downtown Fort Lauderdale. This unique gallery brings high-quality art installations to a new level — specifically, the level that starts at 12 feet overhead and goes up to the much-higher ceiling.

Neil Ramsay, founder and director of the space, notes that his idea is "ambitious."

"I'm creating an opportunity or environment for magic to happen," he says.

Ramsay teaches visual-arts marketing for artists in the architecture department at Florida International University. ArtsUP is his nod to "look up," a trending phenomenon in architecture circles. The concept is often hashtagged on social-media photographs as a way to capture the idea of seeing above, as one would observe the scale of a building or major structure. Locally, Ramsay is a pioneer of the trend.

He says the idea of opening his own space came to him when he visited FAT Village about a year ago. "This is not a result of me saying, 'I want an art space or an art gallery,' " he explains. "This is a result of being in the warehouse district, looking at this warehouse, and combining my appreciation for architecture and my education in economics, and to me, the space was underutilized, so I sought to find a solution."

When he initially explored the warehouse, which spans more than 5,000 square feet, he didn't notice the floor plan; instead, he saw the volume.

"At first, I called this place the Art Sky Challenge," he reflects. "The sky is always a changing work of art, so in this vast space, I thought, Why don't we create a sky — the sky should change in here. Sometimes it's gray; sometimes it's blue with some puffs. It's so large in here, it almost feels like you are outside."

Since opening the spot in January, Ramsay has invited artists to create and install massive aerial displays, best viewed by leaning back as though gazing at the sky.

Currently on display are works by Alabama-based artist Jamey Grimes. Wash is a series of suspended sculptures constructed of corrugated plastic sheets that reference movements of water and a sweep of color. The use of synthetic materials is intentionally juxtaposed against natural subject matter, explains Grimes.

"Corrugated plastic sheets are commonly used for real estate or political signs," says Grimes. "I cut organic patterns out of large sheets [four feet by eight feet] and then melt the surface with hand-held heat guns to achieve detail and texture. Individual sections are then suspended from the ceiling and connected to each other, forming large gestures through the space. Most of this work takes on an environmental quality, much like being in a cave or under the surface of turbulent water." Lighting — from white to blue to green and so on ­— slowly illuminates the pieces.

But the installations are only part of the experience at ArtsUP. Ramsay also considered the business model of FAT Village, which has success with events such as a monthly art walk. "So I divided the space into two," he says. The floor space functions as a venue that can be rented out for special events or be used for programming that relates to the work seen above. The art does not infringe upon events as a typical gallery's walls could. So far, ArtsUP has integrated yoga classes and art photography workshops as part of its programming.

Ramsay says that exhibiting artists — there will be about five per year — are involved in various aspects of any show, from planning happenings on the floor to coordinating the business side of things. He seems to relish his role as a coach and facilitator rather than as a micromanager. As he says, "I let people experiment and fail."

Wash
On display through May 2016 at ArtsUP Concepts, 521 NW First Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Visit ArtsUPconcepts.com.

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