LISTENING POST: Last Train to 378
An era passes with the closing of the popular Candler Park gallery
It was fun while it lasted.
378, the gallery and performance space on Clifton Road in Candler Park, is hosting its final art exhibition and music shows during February before closing for good at the end of the month. The shuttering of 378 marks the end of a brightly shining pop-up chapter in the history of the Atlanta arts community.
The fittingly titled “Last Call” exhibition opened Friday, Feb. 3, and runs through Saturday, Feb. 25. It features work by four Atlanta-based artists: Susan A. Cipcic, Gina Edmonds, Aileen Loy and Katherine Mialkowski (who will be present for an "Artist Talk" this Sat., Feb. 18, at 4:30 p.m.). Last Saturday (Feb. 11), the music line-up consisted of FLAP and El Matador, with the remaining February performances including "Boom With A View: Poetry and Music" featuring spoken word by Dennis Coburn, Rupert Fike, and Marc LaFountain, and music by the Skylarks, (Fri., Feb. 17, doors 7:30 p.m.) and W8ING4UFOS along with Chris Tinsley, Matthew Foster and Aileen Loy Play Murder Songs (Sat., Feb. 18, doors 7:30 p.m.), and the last call of Last Call (Sat., Feb. 25) with Lynx Deluxe, Current Rage, and Das Kaiser.
Soon after opening in the spring of 2019, 378 became a regular gathering spot, especially for a particular demographic segment of the arts community, which includes myself and my peers. Which is to say the teens, twenty- and thirty-somethings who frequented the hip music and art joints of the 1980s and ‘90s. Long-lost places like 688, The White Dot, TV Dinner, Frijoleros, Colorbox, Mudd Shack, Klang, Cotton Club, The Point, Little Five Points Pub, Austin Avenue Buffet, Dottie’s, Celebrity Club, Club Rio and the Metroplex.
Some of us went to Atlanta College of Art. Some of us taught there. We attended, exhibited or performed in the Mattress Factory warehouse shows. We marveled at southern folk artists showcased at Alexander Gallery; absorbed contemporary work on display at Fay Gold, KIPNIS and Nexus (which became Atlanta Contemporary); and reveled in the avant-anarchy of The Blue Rat. At IMAGE Film & Video Center (which morphed into the Atlanta Film Society, organizers of the Atlanta Film Festival), we were dazzled by the animated films of Robert Breer and flabbergasted by David Lynch’s Eraserhead.
One of the main reasons why we flocked to 378’s street-level gallery and basement gallery/performance space was to hang out with old friends, listen to them play music, check out their art, hear what they had to say about it and make new friends with people who dug the same stuff. 378 became our clubhouse largely because the gallery’s DNA closely matched our own.
Located in a former hair salon and florist shop behind the Flying Biscuit restaurant, 378 was the pet project of singer-songwriter Clay Harper (The Coolies, Ottoman Empire). Harper co-owns the building with longtime business partner Mike Nelson with whom he also co-founded Fellini’s Pizza and LaFonda Latina. The partners own the property that stretches around the corner on McLendon Avenue, which houses Flying Biscuit, Moog Gallery and other retail shops.
The first exhibition at 378 in May 2019 featured artwork by Ruth Franklin, Anna Jensen, Athens-based artist Jack Logan and former Clash manager Kosmo Vinyl. Kevn Kinney (Drivin’ N Cryin’), Tim Nielsen and Harper provided the soundtrack for opening night festivities in the basement space in front of an overflow audience.
“378 has had a good run through difficult times,” Harper says. “With the hard work and help from a lot of very talented and generous people, we, as a community, accomplished something positive.”
Those difficult times include the outbreak of the COVID pandemic, which shut down 378 for four months during spring and summer of 2020, three months after the gallery began operating, followed by five months of restricted access, masking and social distancing.
Although Harper was responsible for the genesis of 378, he never intended to oversee day-to-day operations. When the artist originally hired to run the gallery couldn’t make the arrangement work, Harper turned to longtime pal Tom Zarrilli. An actor, artist, journalist, club impresario and retired school librarian, Zarrilli had the expertise and time to take on the project.
“I wanted to make the space artist-oriented,” Zarrilli says. “I wanted to keep commissions low and give the artist a say in how their work was exhibited.”
Over the years, 378 showcased work by numerous artists from the Lake Claire and Candler Park neighborhoods, as well as from the greater metro Atlanta area and beyond. Many exhibition runs included scheduled artist’s talks at the gallery, usually held on weekend afternoons.
One of the earliest exhibitions at 378, “Repurposed,” was a juried show featuring more than 40 works by over two dozen artists conjured from found objects, household products, toys, trinkets and bric-a-brac. For the opening of “Repurposed,” Zarrilli programmed a tribute to Deacon Lunchbox (Tim Ruttenber) hosted by Bill Taft (W8ING4UFOs) featuring music, film, video and poetry.
“The gallery and parking lot were jammed,” Zarrilli says. “That night was the indication that 378 was going to be the place to be.”
Many memorable opening and closing fandangos ensued. “The Triad Show,” which featured works by Jon Arge, Robert Sherer, Chris Beat (Buxbaum) and David Richardson, was distinguished by a bacchanalian-bordering-on-satanical musical performance led by Richardson & Co. A special tribute to musicologist and longtime WREK-FM (91.1) radio host Jon Kincaid, who died in March, 2022, featured the reunion of legendary Atlanta punk rock troupe The Nightporters. CL’s Tony Paris curated a show featuring original art by folk artist Abe Partridge; paintings and furniture by artist Tracey Hartley; and rock posters, photography and memorabilia from TP’s own stash, as well as the collections of photographer Rick Diamond and concert promoter Rich Floyd.
Soon after 378 was up and running, the lead juror for ”Repurposed,” Clare Butler, joined the team to handle publicity and curate. Butler was a founding member of the celebrated 1980s glam-drag-funk-pop band Now Explosion. Her professional experience as a writer and editor well-versed in the Atlanta arts scene made her an ideal choice for the 378 gig. As it happened, her involvement rekindled, if inadvertently, a dormant side of her creative nature.
“When Tom organized the first ‘Wintry Mix’ show, he told me I needed to come up with work for it because he’d already printed my name on the list of artists on the announcement card,” Butler says.
Three “Wintry Mix” shows transpired during 378’s four-year run. They featured ceramics, printmaking, painting, photography, sculpture, jewelry, fabric arts and other work by local artists for sale during the holiday shopping season. Multiple dozens of artists plied their artistic wares during “Wintry Mix” including Rose M. Barron, Dennis Coburn, Sylvia Cross, Amandine Drouet, Neil Fried, Lori Haas, Paige Prier, LiShinault, Phoebe A. Maze, Patty Nelson Merrifield, Laurie Garner, Elyse Defoor, Rosser Shymanski and Cindy Zarrilli (Tom’s wife). Reviving a craft she practiced as a youngster, Butler contributed a series of embroidered and beaded portraits titled “Modern Day Saints.”
“I choose subjects who inspire me to believe in a better world, people like Dolly Parton, David Bowie, John Lewis, Prince and Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” she says. (Full disclosure: Butler welcomes commissions and I will forever cherish the portrait of Sun Ra she made for me.)
In addition to “Repurposed” and “Repurposed II,” Butler curated other exhibitions at 378 including “Beyond the Gallery of the Dolls,” which showcased fantastical original dolls, doll-centric art, film and performance, and “The Material is the Message,” a textile art exhibition featuring everything from quilts and wall hangings to cloth (not just clothbound) books and plush assault rifles.
378 hosted a wide variety of events during its tenure including comedy shows, theater pieces; book signings (The Tom Patterson Years: Cultural Adventures of a Fledgling Scribe, Robert Burke Warren’s Cash on Cash); a seminar on “Visual Artist’s Rights;" “Ear Pollen, an experimental music series curated by Klimchak; and a harrowing presentation by a reformed convicted bank robber.
From “Jack Stewart: The Birth of Subway Graffiti," which showcased the photographic chronicling of New York’s OG graffiti artists in the Sixties and Seventies by an Atlanta native who fought in General Patton’s army during WWII, to “Art in the Time of COVID,” for which 19 artists created work mounted in the windows and doors of the gallery for pathogen-free observation, 378 held to no standard convention of what a gallery should or could do.
As a showcase for contemporary art by (mostly) living and (often) relatively unknown artists from (mostly) Atlanta and the southeastern region, 378 distinguished itself as one of the community’s sharpest edges. As a performance venue for purveyors of progressive, offbeat, genre-fluent music, it served as a guiding vessel. Over time, 378 became an evolving work of communal art in its own right.
“I’m really proud of all the artists we brought together and thankful to the patrons who supported them,” Zarrilli says. “I’m grateful to the support I received in operating the gallery, especially from Clare, Lisa Shinault, Diana Cuevas and, most of all, my wife Cindy. But none of this would have happened without Clay providing the space and resources.”
Sadly, and through no fault of its own, 378 was doomed by the mundane consequences of commerce.
“I’m not sure people realize the scrutiny associated with owning commercial real estate,” Harper explains. “It’s not enough to make payments on time. The banks closely monitor the financial performance of a property and there are ratios you are contracted to meet. If you fail to meet those ratios, your loan is in jeopardy.”
378 was Harper’s gift to the Atlanta arts community, which means the gallery incurred zero expenses: no rent, utilities, insurance or taxes. The problem with that arrangement is the gallery’s inclusion with the rest of the property owned by Harper and his partner on McLendon Avenue.
“We were faced with either raising the rents of our other tenants, which we didn’t want to do, or figure out something else to do with the building,” Harper says. “Under the circumstances, the obvious solution was for Fellini’s and La Fonda to rent the space.”
Of course, it’s possible in the coming days that something like 378 could surface in a different location, under different ownership, with a mission and ethos that attracts a similar core demographic. It’s possible, but not very likely. Gifts like 378 don’t appear under the tree very often and, when they do, we should all give thanks.
“I’m proud that it actually happened,” Harper says. “I didn’t do that much and, in the end, I’m the one making it not happen. Regardless, I’m hopeful there will be more spots like 378 in the future.” —CL—