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The storefront space at 408 Main St. has a new look and tenants.

Cecilia Ballantyne and Evie Kalmar, longtime friends, have reshaped the long space into what they hope will be a vital part of the local arts and fashion community.

Ballantyne’s The Dark Room Unplugged occupies the front half of the space, and it features dark clothing and other fashion accessories. The mannequins in the window are quite a change from the political posters that covered the windows through the election.

Kalmar’s Unplugged Artistic Event Planning and Studios space, which covers the back half of the, is part gallery and part photo-video studio.

“We’re both artists and best friends and we work together all the time,” said Kalmar. “I was in another studio space (on 16th Street) and I wasn’t happy there.”

“This has the same sort of feel as an industrial building, but there’s more space and more freedom,” added Ballantyne.

Kalmar explained that her business is both an art gallery space and a photography studio. “I’m not a photographer, I’m a model, but my work is in here, too,” she said.

Kalmar added: “I’d like to bring other artists from the community in here. I’m doing a runway night and a poetry night. We plan to have a body paint night.

“I am trying to pull in people from this community and other communities into this gallery space. I’d like a lot more art on these walls and a lot more foot traffic in and out. I like all different kinds of art, so I want to display all different kinds of art.”

With its exposed brick walls and high ceilings, the space seems destined to feature all kinds of art and to welcome artists. Adaptable rooms provide working room for photo backdrops, and a bedroom-style space has a Victorian feel.

Dark does not equal gloomy

“A lot of people might look at me and assume I am very dark and gloomy,” said Ballantyne. “But, I’m actually kind of peppy. I have a stuffed sheep collection. Just wearing dark fashion doesn’t make you dark as a person. It’s just a way to express yourself. It doesn’t have to mean anything more than that.”

Dark fashion is just another way for people to express themselves. “You can be whoever you want to. That’s the biggest misconception, that you have to be a dark gloomy person to wear dark clothing,” she added. In that way, adopting a wardrobe full of black clothing and accessories is not different than a person who gets body piercings and tattoos.

“I’ve had a lot of people who have heard about the shop online and have walked in,” said Ballantyne. “People are really excited to see a place that sells so many different things. Seeing people who are young be able to express themselves and feel safe doing it, that is what I have seen so far. And it makes me very happy.”

Building interest

The women are using a mix of established connections with the artist and fashion community with a big helping of social media to get the word out. An opening night party drew more than 150 people. An upcoming poetry night has collected a lot of interest, too, said Kalmar. She expects similar interest in runway nights.

Kalmar has been a model for a while. “So it’s extremely helpful to me to already have ties to hundreds of different artists,” she said.

The gallery has drawn interest from not only the local area but from around the Midwest. Kalmar said she has even heard from a photographer in Thailand who would like to show work at the gallery.

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Rex Davenport

Rex Davenport is a reporter, editor and editorial project manager with more than 40 years of experience in newspaper, business magazines and other content channels.