Renny Molenaar had spent three years in pursuit of Germantown’s perfect art-gallery space. Then, while he and his family rode bikes on Greene Street heading to a baseball game, a newly vacant Maplewood Mall storefront caught his eye.
There was competition for the space that had been a tax-preparer’s storage space for 15 years. More than a few daycares and hair salons were waiting for the day it became available.
As fate would have it, Molenaar secured his lease on the space at 5601 Greene St. just three weeks ago.
On Saturday, the Imperfect Gallery will open with a 29-artist, all-Germantown exhibition titled “There’s Something About Germantown.”
A preparation scramble
Molenaar has already assembled an eight-member board of directors including art-world veterans from the neighborhood to New York City.
He is teaming with a few friends this week to get the space ready for the art, which arrived through an open call to Germantown artists, several of whom are members of the Germantown Artists Roundtable.
He freely admitted that, so far, he’s flying by the seat of his pants.
“We have no money, no support, no backing. We just have our drive,” said Molenaar, who plans to set the gallery up as a 501(c)3 non-profit and home to a variety of community art-and-culture initiatives. “Our business plan is beg, borrow and steal. Unfortunately, it’s more begging than stealing.”
The 51-year-old Molenaar was born into an artistic family in Aruba.
“I’m part black, part Indian, and part Dutch,” he said. “When I was born, all the cooks got in the kitchen and stirred it up.”
Chasing dreams, the family settled in northern New Jersey when he was five. He sketched the New York City skyline and later attended Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts as well as the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
Today, the “artist who has always been attracted to the street” is best known for his work in fabric and public sculptures made of found objects like hair clips used in November for a commentary about child molestation at Wayne Avenue and West Queen Lane.
Molenaar contended that if people do not discuss trauma, “you live with it. You don’t work through it.”
In addition to 25 years as a New York-based independent contractor, teaching art and helping educators incorporate the arts into their curriculums, he curated for the Bronx’s famous Fashion Moda gallery. He met his wife of 22 years, a native of Peru, at a Bronx gallery.
What brought him here?
The city first caught Molenaar’s eye when he arrived for a residency at the Philadelphia Fabric Workshop and Museum in 1996.
Shortly after witnessing the 9/11 attacks from his window, he and his wife felt drawn to Philadelphia. They settled in Germantown nine years ago.
The affordable housing, good schools and nearby trains were factors, but Molenaar said one thing drew him to the neighborhood more than anything else: Its large and beautiful trees.
Now that he’s fulfilling his longtime goal of opening up a new venue in Germantown, Molenaar is not giving himself much space to breathe. Next week, he’ll host a musical performance; the week after that, a poetry event.
He said he hopes to build up a budget through exhibitions, grants, workshops and donations. He also hopes to cultivate programs to support local LGBT youth, and envisions developing a high-school level curatorial fellowship.
“No one is taught how to curate” at that age, he said. “I want to teach kids how to look at art, how to present it and how to say something about your community.”
As a lifelong artist, he’s familiar with the scoffs from people who choose more traditional career paths.
“‘Artsy-fartsy’? No!” he exclaimed. “Artists change the world, over and over again.”
This weekend’s inaugural exhibition includes work from artists in their twenties to their eighties.
Imperfect Gallery will be open to the public from 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday.
As Molenaar noted, the space is still far from finished, so patrons might notice the dropped ceilings and fluorescent lighting, hardly the usual setting for an art show. In accordance with his gallery’s name, though, Molenaar isn’t waiting for perfection before opening the doors.