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Art and Soul at a Lafayette Pop-Up

A vacant Lafayette bank is transformed into an interactive gallery and events space—invigorating the community in the process.


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Jennifer Perlmutter addresses the crowd at the pop-up’s opening.

Photos by Mika Watanabe

What is art? Where do you see it? And why does it matter?

Gallery owner and artist Jennifer Perlmutter poses these questions not just to art lovers but to the entire community too, with her much-buzzed-about pop-up art space in a former bank in downtown Lafayette.

Called [email protected] Bank (the initials reference the flagship Jennifer Perlmutter Gallery, also in Lafayette), the project came together thanks to an imaginative collaboration between municipal and business leaders. With the blessing of the city’s vice mayor Mike Anderson and interim city manager Niroop Srivatsa, Perlmutter joined forces with property owner Steve Cortese to breathe new life into the long-​vacant Wells Fargo building, with the help of her artist friends.

Highlights of the pop-up—which opened February 14 and runs through June 30—include a 32-foot tapestry created by Akiko Suzuki of the Global Art Project that flows across the entry area, greeting vis­itors. A variety of art exhibitions and public events—ranging from several musical performances, to live-painting demonstrations (April 5 and 6), to a Cal Shakes–led reading salon (April 28), to a lively game show–style discussion series called Bad Art Live (March 27 and May 1)—are also on the packed calendar.

A visitor investigates the drawers of the  bank-vault installation—and leaves a  note for a future guest to uncover.

One of the main draws is the fortress​like vault space, in which artist Betsy Streeter created an interactive exhibit called Unknown Key. Visitors can pull open a selec­tion of 300-plus safe-deposit drawers to discover the intriguing, odd, and often amusing treasures hidden inside, amid the echoes of an eerie soundscape. Guests are encouraged to leave notes detailing the tales they imagine these mysterious items tell, or to snap selfies behind the boxes.

“The overarching statement [made by] the vault is: What’s the story of the things that we hide away?” Perlmutter says.

“Objects take on different meanings when you put them in a room like this,” Streeter adds.

Additionally, Perlmutter explores the site’s provenance with a juried exhibition called New Currencies, on view through April 27. “It has to do with how artists exchange value in the world,” she explains. The show includes works made out of actual money—shredded, painted, or assembled into other things, for example—and pieces that comment on the artist’s value in society.

The topic resonates strongly with Perlmutter, who has long used her artistic skills to contribute to charitable organizations—and to the community at large. That generosity was returned in kind when she got the license to operate [email protected] Bank: From the get-go, numerous local residents and businesses rallied to donate equipment and provisions to the project. Likewise, artists volunteered their time and creative efforts to make the pop-up something special.

On a broader scale, [email protected] Bank offers an impactful statement about what art brings to a community. “There are a lot of art lovers here, but we still have so many empty storefronts. So I’m hoping this will ignite the owners,” Perlmutter says. “If this makes our developers, owners, and city government see that we could viably have a municipal, cultural arts center in Lafayette … that would be amazing.”

 

Located at 3525 Mt. orderpizzaonlinewalledlakemi Blvd., [email protected] Bank is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. .

 

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