A FEW WEEKS AGO, Grass Hut announced plans to leave their 811 E Burnside location, and move in with Floating World Comics (20 NW 5th, #101). The news was a bit of a bummer, not only in the moving of the Hut, but in what looks like the destabilization of the de facto, multi-gallery arts complex at 811 E Burnside (for me, a First Friday staple), where Grass Hut has occupied the complex's center space.
Recently I spoke with Bwana Spoons, founder of Grass Hut, who originally started the arthouse as a website almost eight years ago. Spoons told me that Grass Hut's web presence was first designed to distribute his zines, and later became a digital storefront for art sales. For the last three and a half years, Grass Hut has been in its current iteration—a website with an international following, plus a stand-alone gallery and a store for prints, books, collectibles, and vinyl toys.
For the last five years, Spoons worked closely with Justin "Scrappers" Morrison (the Mercury's art director). When Grass Hut went physical, they each worked under a no-pay business model to keep open hours at the lowest possible overhead. But recently Scrappers left Grass Hut, and Spoons took over his shifts—and the increased customer service hours started to get in the way of Spoons' time to make art. "It's not busy enough to hire people, but it's busy enough that I have to spend a big portion of my day answering questions," says Spoons. This is where the move comes in.
"The move is happening because I don't want to do this by myself," says Spoons. "Jason [Leivian of Floating World Comics] will deal with the front end, and I will deal with the back end [organizing art shows, etc.]—Grass Hut will be a public space, and I'll be able to make my work." Sounds like a relatively happy ending. The caveats?
The Grass Hut inventory will decrease, which to me is the saddest absolute in all of this. In the prints department Spoons says he'll be paring down to "a core group of artists that we like working with," a number he estimates at roughly 15. Additionally, at a time when the multi-gallery 811 E Burnside complex seemed to be getting stronger—with a recent move in from Nationale, plus longer-term neighbors like Redux—the Grass Hut move will likely leave a noticeable gap in the First Friday crowd, reduced by Grass Hut's well-attended openings. (The business that will take the Hut's place is still anyone's guess.)
Ultimately, the move is a good thing for Grass Hut and Spoons, as well as Floating World. The comic book shop and art-hut are a well-paired match; their inventorial Venn diagram shares a nice little oval of illustrative works. They bring together two complementary art audiences, likely to attract a significant volume of crossover viewers. Spoons says dual openings will be hosted—Jason Leivian of Floating World will keep his current exhibition space, and Spoons will hang art within a separate space.
On April 30, Grass Hut will host a final closing party at its 811 E Burnside location for its current Balls Out show. The next Thursday, May 6, Grass Hut will host their inaugural First Thursday opening at the new space, featuring works by Joel Trussell.