By JONAH LIPSKY
Near the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and MassArt in Boston lies a small basement gallery. At the entrance to the space a large electric sign hovers above the door displaying the word yes in three languages: Yes. Oui. Si.
The Yes.Oui.Si. gallery opened officially in January after four months of preparation; it is a place for both art and music shows. The artists who created the gallery have spent varying amounts of time on the Vineyard; many were raised here, others spent summers. The group decided to create their own gallery to showcase the work of the many artists in their immediate group of friends as well as their extended community of students, many of whom would not otherwise have their work shown. Not for lack of talent, mind you, but because they are all just starting out.
“It was designed to be an alternative to the mainstream gallery world where you work your way up this system of artistic hierarchy . . . until you get to this point where you have a solo show in Chelsea and that’s victory,” commented Niko Ewing. “But for us it was like we would cut out the middleman and just show our own work and our own friends’ work. It would take out the commerce of it.”
The project officially began at the end of last summer but the seeds were sown on the Vineyard during the past three summers. The core group of artists who call themselves the Greatfruit Collective shared three summers together on the Island when they were invited to stay for free at a property known to them as Peckerwood.
“For three years we... got to experience building a ramshackle, semi-sustainable, woodland shantytown,” said Alisa Javits. “We really learned to live with each other differently than sharing apartments and bumming around the city together. You really get to see people in a different light when you’re pooping on shovels and carrying water to your house in gas cans, you know? I think that made all of us stronger together.”
When the group returned to Boston in the fall of 2010, they found a room needing renovations. It soon became the tangible extension of the arts’ organization that had so far only existed in ideas and discussions. They worked as a team bringing with them carpentry skills, design ideas, their personal connections and a lofty vision: The space would include just about everything. According to their website, yesouisispace.com, it is,“A multi-sensory exhibition space that exists to unite a diverse range of mediums in a single venue, including 2d/3d work, music, performance, design, written/spoken word, film/animation, dance, education and community.”
But they also need to pay the bills.
Since January the Greatfruit Collective has hovered near 15 members or so. They meet once a week to discuss everything from gallery philosophy and art selections to business details. Miguel De Braganca serves as the executive director, Olivia Ives-Flores the creative director and Adrian Molina as the space coordinator.
“We’re trying to structure it so that we’re a completely freestanding and sustainable space,” said Ms. Ives-Flores. “It’s going pretty well so far. There are a lot of . . . really generous philanthropists in Boston who are really invested in seeing us survive and do well. We’re a bunch of young people who are doing something positive so there are a lot of people who are into it.”
So far, they have had five separate exhibitions and are planning another one entitled Les Animaux de l’Avenir, French for “The Animals of the Future.”
One of the main differences between Yes.Oui.Si. and the mainstream gallery world is that their focus is more on community and the experience of viewing art than commerce.
For example, the proceeds from the first show were given to a friend of the collective who experienced a fire in her apartment. Money from the second show went to a Japan tsunami relief organization.
“We know that we all believe in something that’s one and the same,” said Mr. Ewing. “But trying to articulate that together has been a really educational experience, a really informative experience, because it’s taught me how to understand some of the ways I think creativity should be shared.”
The experience of creating Yes.Oui.Si. has raised the possibility of taking that experiential knowledge elsewhere. One idea is to create something like it on the Vineyard.
“I think we need to use Yes.Oui.Si. like a portfolio or a resumé,” said Mr. Ewing. “Look at what we have done. Now let us do something like this on the Vineyard.”
The answer to that is a resounding Yes. Oui. Si.