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Arts Center In Dania Beach Aims To Meet Studio, Community Needs

Caitie Switalski Munoz
Ceramic artist and owner of Gasper Arts Center, Laura Gasper.

The Gasper Arts Center opened during the pandemic — in the early part of 2021. Now the owner, Laura Gasper, hopes it will fill the need for more affordable artist studio space and office space for creatives.

The Gasper Arts Center is part community space for art classes, part private artist studio space — and part office space for people with creative jobs.

Just off of U.S. 1 in Dania Beach, it's about 9,000 square feet of ceramicist Laura Gasper's dream.

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Gasper's own work in ceramics is full of intricate details in the clay, while other pieces have lots of color. In her day job, she teaches color guard at West Broward High School.

After close to a decade of having this dream, and closing a shared space in Hollywood that was smaller, she wanted to go out on her own to combine her love for the arts and education — with studio space.

"Starting in some of these other places, I was like, 'I know what I want to do and I can see it, but it's just not here yet,'" said Gasper. "You can't clay everywhere. You can't do ceramics everywhere. It's such a niche and specific thing that requires so much, like, specific equipment, so much training. It's definitely been something that you've seen schools kind of decline on."

All of that was her motivation — along with having a clean, safe space to work.

"You need to be able to take care of things like dust and being on top of each other and the chemicals that you're using and all types of things," said Gasper. "Being a woman, there's been some warehouses and some places that I worked in that we're maybe not the best. If I needed to leave at two in the morning, did I feel OK doing that? If I needed to come at 6 a.m., did I feel OK doing that?"

With the pandemic a major concern, Gasper got started with some classes once vaccines started becoming available in January and February of this year.

Caitie Switalski Munoz
Rayka Vallias starts to shape a mold for what will be a concrete dining room table, in his studio inside the Gasper Arts Center.

Behind the community space that's used for pottery classes, Rayka Vallias rents studio space with his girlfriend. He studies engineering and she studies architecture. Together they build concrete structures, called ./CON.

On the floor in the middle of his space, is the mold he's drilling for a large custom concrete dining room table, meant to seat eight people.

"We could find studio spaces, but it would be like, a space way bigger than we actually needed and it would be too expensive for us," Vallias said.

"Since we were starting we didn't have a lot of capital to put in," said Vallias. "My mother, she's also an artist, so we're sharing the studio with her so she could also work on some of her art."

Caitie Switalski Munoz
Gasper Arts Center Artist Alex Meiklejohn works in ceramics and pottery too, in miniature.

Evan Snow is a co-founder of the Broward social marketing platform, #Choose954 and Art Fort Lauderdale. He's involved with Fort Lauderdale Art & Design Week each year and also co-founded a program for renting vacant retail space to artists to keep studios affordable, called Zero Empty Spaces.

Snow said things have gotten better in Broward County for artists over the last two to three years.

"There is more space available. But the situation is is still somewhat slow moving," said Snow. "Aside from the space that Laura has opened, there's not so many new art studios necessarily opening on a monthly basis as there might be in Miami or Palm Beach."

The office space for rent in the front part of the Gasper Arts Center is still under construction for now, but Gasper envisions it will soon house creative professionals like graphic designers and architects — plus a gallery space to display all that's going on behind it.

"It's a gamble for us, you know, to have taken on such a big space, especially during the middle of a pandemic," she said. "The thing is that ... I've seen the need of people wanting these artist spaces. I've seen we have a community here already of people who — literally it's kind of that 'Field of Dreams' type thing ... if you build it, they will come."

Caitie Switalski Munoz
The community class space for pottery at Gasper Arts Center.

Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, produces WLRN's midday public affairs program, Sundial weekdays at 1 and 8 p.m. Prior to transitioning to production, Caitie covered news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News for four years.