“After nearly a decade it’s hard to imagine myself without Co-Lab Projects,” says Sean Gaulager. “I think we are running in tandem at this point, inexplicably and eternally bound.”
At its original location, Co-Lab fostered the art community with beer and late night fireside conversations. The fourth of July promised firecrackers and the drive east promised the once open spaces of the east side. Gaulager founded Co-Lab in 2008 with Leslie Moody Castro and Amanda Winkles with a focus on new media artists and turned over exhibitions on an impressive schedule — Co-Lab has presented over 210 exhibitions.
“I previously hosted shows in my various living spaces and curated some pop-up exhibitions in others,” Gaulager describes. “I wanted to start a dedicated space again but had no money, so I knew I had to find something that worked for both living and working. I happened to find the Allen St. warehouse and property on craigslist, came to visit with cash in hand and rented it on the spot with a handshake and a move in date.”
Originally from San Clemente, California, Gaulager moved to Austin in 1995 with his parents, Jacqui McGraw Gaulager and Tom Gaulager, and two younger sisters, Erin and Gabrielle. Growing up, he drew, played guitar, and wrote. High school brought raves and turntablism. While taking community college classes, Gaulager continued to explore interests and looked for ways to be self-employed.
“My primary motivation is working with artists all the time, I fucking love helping people realize their ideas and/or just being a set of hands. I have absorbed so much from everyone I’ve ever worked with and those experiences have served as my education in lieu of traditional academia,” says Gaulager.
Gaulager’s non-academic art perspective plays an important role in Austin. Alongside the universities and museums, successful artist-run spaces and ambitiously under-funded projects form the heart of Austin’s art community. What Co-Lab and similar East Austin spaces have achieved motivates others to try and try again.
“I really love living in a developing city, as crazy, complicated, and conflicted as it can be,” Gaulager says. “I think we have a unique opportunity to establish a cultural center here, to build something of our own making, provide meaningful arts education, develop art buying markets and different ways of supporting ourselves as both artists and administrators.”
As the reputations of Gaulager and Co-Lab continues to grow, Gaulager hopes to be developing a space for others to create and define their own careers.
“Hopefully Co-Lab Projects will be around for a long time and will provide even better opportunities for future-people,” says Gaulager. “I would like to emphasize the importance of the entire Co-Lab team, often times people give me way too much credit, as if I am some sort of one man show. Near the end of the first year Leslie started her graduate studies at UT and Amanda moved to Thailand to teach English, so I was solo. If not for Austin Nelsen (director of communications and development) and Chris Whiteburch (director of education and special projects) Co-Lab Projects would not exist, the experiment might have fizzled out or I might have burnt out trying to carry the workload on my own. Austin has been working tirelessly on securing the future home for the organization and Chris has developed a broad vision for the future of our educational programs and social outreach, in addition to their continual contributions administrative and curatorial.”
Like at all institutions, Co-Lab’s leadership is supported by so many more individuals.
“Vladimir Mejia was 17 years old and a freshman in college when Chris invited him to start volunteering his time, he now runs our Instagram residency and sits on the advisory board. Emily Lowe started showing up and bossing people around at some point, she continues to wrangle volunteers and runs Art of the Brew with Chris and Austin. David Lovas visited the old-Lab during E.A.S.T. in 2012 and said he wanted to help with our documentation efforts, he is now the primary documentarian and editor. Mary Katherine Matalon is our grant editor/advisor. Holland Whiteburch edits our copy. Many other contributors include: Katie O’Connell, Geoff Galvez, Erin Miller, Kheili Hiller, Emily Cayton, J.t. Bundick, Kate Barbee, Aubree Dale, and SUMMERSCOOL students past and present. Many other people have contributed over the years, each with their own story of involvement and I couldn’t possibly tell them all.”
The past few years have been tricky and stressful for Gaulager as Co-Lab moved out of the original Allen St. location and potential new gallery spaces have fallen through. And yet Gaulager remains optimistic and his team pushes forward to remain active in an effort to increase the visibility of the visual arts community in an ever-expanding city. For the next year, Co-Lab will present exhibitions in DEMO GALLERY, a temporary downtown location at 721 Congress Ave. while plans for a more permanent home are finalized. When ask whether or not Austin’s population increase has helped the art community, Gaulager says:
“Co-Lab has experienced increased funding every year from sales and donations. However, I don’t see a ton of new faces at the shows every week. The art community needs to do a better job at outreach and they need to start showing up goddammit.”
Images courtesy of Co-Lab Projects and Sean Gaulager.