Mermaids and “Handmaid’s Tale” characters partied alongside khaki-clad arts patrons at Elsewhere Museum, a former thrift shop turned into a thriving cultural hub, which hosted its annual fundraising extravaganza the evening of Oct. 28.
As Elsewhere is decidedly unlike most art museums, the hours-long celebration defied stereotypes about how fundraisers should look. The evening also marked one of few times a year the public can access all three floors of the downtown Greensboro space without paying for a guided tour. Events commenced on the ground floor but as the night progressed, the second and third floors opened up for increasingly bizarre experiences.
Emena Santiago, 31, most appreciated enactments from martial artists associated with the Greensboro Academy of Martial Arts and a brief show from Scrapmettle actors who performed monologues about the experiences of queer black people in both contemporary and 19th Century contexts.
“As a person of color, seeing that expression of art was really cool because you don’t often see it,” Santiago said. “Events touching on queer people of color is personally important to me.”
A former production intern and house curator said that Elsewhere’s fundraising event, in particular, succeeds in welcoming people from seemingly disparate parts of the community into the same space, yet centers the most marginalized.
“Elsewhere reconciles older, wealthy people who want to support the alternative arts with young queer, [people of color] communities that are the most important thing happening in the arts,” said 23-year-old Jessie Vogel. “It calls together people from different walks of life to this space for one night and makes them focus on all these things like a tarot reader or a synthesizer musician or people who work with model trains. I think that this place is leveraging its attention to look at these communities.”
Of those predominantly-white arts supporters, Santiago said, “They’re interested in getting to know who their neighbors are and who’s in their community and I think that’s super important if you’re going to be supporting the arts in any way. You have to know your neighbors and who you’re standing for.”
Santiago also found the interactive nature of the museum refreshing.
“I dug in a garden for five minutes and dug up an artifact from things around the museum and received a free drink,” she said. “This wasn’t just a party where I was walking around handing people money and tickets; I was part of the installation. It’s such a free environment to be able to explore, and there’s something to see everywhere, which is one of the best things about Elsewhere.”
Upstairs, Michael Burke, a host for local NPR-affiliated radio station WFDD, read chilling stories embodying a fabricated character, “SINter Claus.” He topped off a traditional Santa costume with devilish horns glued to his forehead. As Burke read Margaret Read MacDonald’s Old One Eye from a high-backed chair with assistance of only a dim lamp, adults rocked back and forth on twin-sized beds arranged to serve as couches, gleefully cooperating with cues to participate in the telling of the haunting tale.
“They gave me a handful of books — mostly kids’ books — and the reaction of people to the kids’ stories has been priceless,” said Burke, who is also an actor. “It’s an art I guess folks don’t encounter often once they leave their parents’ laps. A lady came in here and sat back and said, ‘I haven’t been read to in years.’ It’s been wonderful.”
Across the hall, the sound of spray cans led to a tiny aerosol-filled room where representatives from Concept Salon, a four-month-old endeavor on Battleground Avenue, offered free hairstyling. Many left the room with glittering locks while others opted for glow-in-the-dark or bold color spray-on dye.
Learn more about Elsewhere at goelsewhere.org.
“Hair and makeup is an art form, too, and we’re trying to be more involved in the community and do things maybe other salons wouldn’t,” salon owner Ashlyn Noto said.
Herbal-infused cocktails in hand, attendees mingled in rooms as diverse as themselves — from casino-lit enclaves to jovial, childlike spaces — and it was impossible not to find one that suited a particular mood. The mostly-eerie third floor, though, featured unnerving synthesizer music that creeped through the doorway opposite from where shell and tarot-card readers connected with curious partygoers. Projected clips from post-apocalyptic films ran on loop on a central wall. The scene of young men puffing rings of smoke from vaporizers called to mind the hookah-smoking caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland. In a trippy sideshow, a “mad scientist” experimented with a shallow bowl filled with a color-dyed mixture of mineral oil and rubbing alcohol that sat atop a projector. A smaller glass plate placed on top set the liquid in motion so that swirls of color appeared on the wall.
Though the crowd thinned out as the clock approached midnight, a DJ orchestrated a late-night dance party on the first floor, allowing a few dozen party-goers to keep energy circulating through the space. But the point of Elsewhere’s extravaganza wasn’t to simply orchestrate a frenetic carnival of sorts; it was to draw us just far enough out of our comfort zones to learn something new about ourselves, and about each other.