Can-Opener Collective pops open in downtown Annapolis space

and Contact Reportersdohl@capgaznews.com; ssanfelice@capgaznews.com

Tourists wandering Dock Street have been introduced to Annapolis’ emerging visual artists through the slow hiss of the Can-Opener Collective opening.

Over the last two weekends, hundreds of people have roamed in and out of the studio/showcase squeezed into The Cannery building. Saturday night, that hiss culminated in the Popping the Can-Opener Collective launch.

The launch party marks the next concrete step toward building the artist hub Mayor Gavin Buckley pitched right after his election — “The Cannery,” as he dubbed it, is expected to bring the often stagnant Harbour Square mall back to life.

The Blonder family purchased the building earlier this year and, for now, is renting the anchor space to the Can-Opener Collective on a month-to-month basis. Cindy Russell, a property manager, declined to say how much the collective is paying in rent.

“It’s a big undertaking project for them so getting them as much exposure as we can to people that maybe wouldn’t even think about looking at that type of art,” Russell said.

One of those pieces making people think is painter and jeweler Harley Hope’s (formerly known as Yumi Vong) portrait of a woman with reproductive organs in place of her head.

The piece displayed in the Can-Opener Collective’s window was inspired by Napoleon’s words, “Women should not be regarded as the equals of men; they are, in fact, mere machines to make children.”

“It’s caught a lot of people’s attention,” Hope said. “I like hearing them either laugh or start a conversation when they pass by.”

Michael Blonder, who owns A.L. Goodies on Main Street, opened a souvenir shop in another previously empty space. The other tenants, Annapolis Marine Art Gallery and Guzzi Gifts, will continue to operate long-term, Russell said.

The goal is to create an arts hub similar to the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Virginia, Blonder said, which hosts workshops, galleries and events as well as studio space for working artists.

Artists with the collective are squeezing themselves into every nook and cranny of the 1,089-square-foot space they can. Hope, Aaron “Skribe” Yealdhall, Anthony “Ant” LaVorgna and Dani Campbell each take corners of the studio space. Every wall is covered with their artwork, as well as that of Stephanie Baker, Jason Liggett, Charles Lawrance, Samantha Bigora, Mark Peria, Stewart Weiss, Jeff Huntington, Jimi Davies, Ila Davies and Chris Pagent.

When wall space runs short, paintings are propped carefully on the floor. In LaVorgna’s corner, the army of mini robots he’s sculpted guard a hidden nook where some of his paintings are displayed.

These artists lack no opportunity to be seen — their works already dominate the walls of West Street in eateries like 49 West Coffeehouse and Tsunami or studios like FinArt or ArtFarm — but The Cannery offers a different kind of exposure.

“The whole concept is to unite uptown and downtown Annapolis,” Hope said. “It’s nice to work here and vibe off each other as tourists come in. Even if they don’t come in, we love seeing people react to our work.”

For LaVorgna and Hope, The Cannery is a chance to show off their experimental work as budding artists, both in the Annapolis scene for less than three years.

Small frames of pieces LaVorgna made from spray paint, crayons and eggshells rest in a spinning display. Just for The Cannery, he’s started recycling empty spray paint cans donated by the other artists into their own works of art.

Saturday, he put crayon to canvas and used a hairdryer to melt his live art as Hope crafted her signature “Rogueries.”

Hope’s pieces blend different cultures and styles into the traditional Catholic pattern she grew up with. The series she’s working on turns protectors like firefighters, police and sailors into patron saints. All are handmade with recycled metals and use ethically sourced gemstones.

If The Cannery is successful enough, Blonder would like to expand and add artists in the space above his Main Street store.

The Cannery concept initially bristled current tenants, who felt cut off from the larger plan that Buckley envisioned. Early in his administration, he took tour groups through the space, worrying employees who have worked in the Harbour Square mall for years.

But the collective and the property managers said they’ve fostered a good working relationship with the other current tenants. Employees of Annapolis Marine Art Gallery, a 40-year-old gallery and institution in the marine art world, have indicated they want to see the collective succeed.

Russell said the new storefronts are already attracting more traffic through the mall. To build on that, she and Blonder are working with the Naval Academy to complete a mural on the outside of The Cannery space.

“It would just be great if everybody as a collective unit, all of us locals, could come together to keep the local businesses going and give these young modern artists some great exposure,” she said, “because you never know who’s going to be in town, never know who’s going to walk into your store.”

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