Germantown art gallery celebrates anniversary after two roller-coaster years

 Gallery co-owners Renny Molenaar and Rocio Cabello talk with artist Jill Saull (middle). (Alaina Mabaso/for NewsWorks)

Gallery co-owners Renny Molenaar and Rocio Cabello talk with artist Jill Saull (middle). (Alaina Mabaso/for NewsWorks)

With a second-anniversary show starting this weekend, iMPerRFeCT Gallery Co-Founder and Curator Renny Molenaar recently reflected on the path that brought him here.

“Some days, I feel like this just started,” he said. “Sometimes, I feel like I’ve been here 10 years.”

On what has been

Back in June 2012, NewsWorks dropped by the small space on Greene Street near Maplewood Mall just three weeks after Molenaar and his wife, gallery co-founder Rocio Cabello, nabbed the lease.

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Then, they were prepping for their inaugural show.

When NewsWorks returned to check in on life at the gallery, the space looked much the same (except for roving works of art between the bare wood floor and fluorescent lights in the dropped ceiling).

This week, preparations took the form of the couple sharing a mid-afternoon pizza sons Cody and Giza.

The family bikes leaned against a wall near the gallery’s large front window which was covered by a colorful cloth. On a nearby table sat a variety of hardware used for mounting wall art.

Just three days before iMPeRFeCT’s 2nd Anniversary Show was scheduled to open, only a few paintings and photographs hung from the walls. But, things like that never seem to worry Molenaar, who is of the mind that artists often operate on their own schedules.

The upcoming show

Curated by Molenaar, the anniversary event — which runs through July 5 — features artists who have been part of solo or group exhibitions over the past year. That includes Germantown fixtures like photographer Tieshka Smith and sculptor Gina Michaels.

The Red Room (the gallery’s bathroom) will feature a retrospective of photos from former installations and snapshots of Germantown residents captured when a Philadelphia Photo Arts Center booth visited Maplewood Mall in April.

Molenaar said the past few months have been good to the gallery thanks to help from Artists U founder and director Andrew Simonet, who has been volunteering as a consultant.

Among his pieces of advice? Don’t mount so many shows. How about a show that would last three or six months, instead of packing in up to 12 a year?

Saving iMPeRFeCT

The gallery’s unconventional business model has seen plenty of ups and downs over the last year, including a funding crisis that nearly forced its closing.

Last fall, though, a “sustainer campaign” helped raise a few hundred dollars each month. Along with piecemeal donations and artwork sales, it’s keeping the gallery afloat for now.

Molenaar and Cabello said they’ll soon launch a fundraising drive in which the general public can donate as little as $5 or $10 per month to keep the doors open.

“We’ve had a lot of soul-searching,” Molenaar said of the past year, “a lot of crisis-to-crisis type situations.”

The storm-battered winter meant artwork sales dwindled to nearly nonexistent. Summer, however, has brought several recent sales that provided a much-needed boost to the gallery’s coffers.

Food and art

Despite the financial uncertainty, Molenaar and Cabello said artists come before profits.

“I’m adamant about the artist’s right to have a voice,” Molenaar said.

Added Cabello, “We don’t want to depend on sales. Selling is the cherry on top.”

The couple also insists on keeping their community events — like concerts and poetry nights — free to all comers; its monthly “Last Supper” fundraiser is a pot-luck for all.

Merging food and art is an idea that traces back to the couple’s days in New York City more than a decade ago. Among their ideas for upcoming themed-dinner events are nights based on recipes from Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

“Sitting down to eat is not about seeing and being seen,” Molenaar said of the casual vibe.

Looking ahead

Geographically speaking, everyone on or near Maplewood Mall anticipates a brightened future as the nook moves toward a $2.2 million facelift.

To Molenaar, the fact that iMPeRFeCT faces Greene Street is even more beneficial since they won’t be overly impacted by the actual construction.

Among other ideas moving forward, said Cabello, is “Friday Night on a String” which is an evening of music from a single acoustic guitar.

Molenaar still wants to institute a high-school curatorial fellowship.

The couple also mentioned hosting a pair of dancers in the Red Room, images of whom would be projected out front via live feed.

“This is a real sweet spot,” Molenaar said of the Gallery’s current perch, conceding that he wouldn’t mind a bigger, better-suited place in Germantown.

Despite the challenges of the first two years, Cabello and Molenaar remain proud of building a truly multicultural, intergenerational gallery.

“We’re accomplishing what a lot of institutions are rhetorical about,” Molenaar said.

iMPeRFeCT Gallery‘s Second Anniversary Show starts with an opening reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday and runs through July 5. The gallery, located at 5610 Greene St. in Germantown, is open from 2 to 6 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays.

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