By Helen Robinson, Colorado Springs Business Journal
The things you can do in a 700-square-foot space are limitless, Lauren Ciborowski says, and with The Modbo she’s spent the past decade trying most of them.
The Modbo is a cozy space tucked in an alleyway in downtown Colorado Springs, and as proprietor and gallerist, Ciborowski fills it not only with paintings, sculpture, mixed media work and sketches, but dance and poetry performances, chamber music recitals, live music, art classes and private events.
A pianist by training, she runs a cabaret out of the space, teaches piano there, and loves to let celebrations spill outside into the alley, strung with lights. Last week, the gallery was still crowded with rows of narrow, makeshift bars from a whiskey tasting.
“The Modbo was founded with the intent of creating joy for those who collaborate in the arts, so that’s why it’s always been a multi-use space,” said Ciborowski. “Primarily, though, this is still an art gallery and the exhibits change every First Friday, like many around town.”
Ciborowski and her then-husband went into business together with The Modbo in June 2009, after his previous partnership in a nearby gallery went sour. Later they took over the space next door, which became the SPQR Experiential Art Space.
“We had them together for many, many years until our divorce, but even past the divorce we ‘co-parented’ for a while,” Ciborowski said.
In February 2017, she took over The Modbo alone. She’s the gallerist and art dealer, and manages every part of the business, alongside her work as a pianist.
“I’ve never been a visual artist myself — I only got into that side of the business because my ex-husband is a talented painter. Performing arts are my first love,” Ciborowski said.
She took up piano at age 5 and has been teaching for 12 years. She still works as a pianist — weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs, Christmas sing-alongs — as well as playing and directing her own cabaret and preparing to go back on the competition circuit.
Curating and hanging the space at The Modbo is her way of “being part of the visual arts,” Ciborowski said, “but really being a gallerist is a lot about coordination and media and marketing and payroll. It’s very much a business. …
“I’m very much invested in showing work that’s made with integrity; I’m also trying every month to find work that will sell,” she added. “And that’s important, because I’m a small business, I’m a for-profit, there’s no grants to be had for me. I’m just trying to make rent off of my relatively small commission.”
That intersection between art and business, passion and profit, is interesting, she said.
“It’s a balancing act for sure. I will never have a show here that’s just for fun. I have shows that I think will impact people — and art that I hope they will want to take home with them,” she said. “… Some artists are more commercially minded, let’s say, and many of them are not. So I always try to have a very straightforward conversation with them when I book them, to say, ‘OK, here’s exactly what the numbers are. Here’s my rent, here’s the cut that I’m taking, here’s the cut that you get. Here’s what it would take for me to be able to pay my rent and utilities.’ And I have never once taken a profit out of this space in 10 years. It is a break-even business, which is why I still work as a pianist and teacher and host private events whenever I can, to help supplement. But yeah, it’s an interesting little Venn diagram when you try to put art and money [together].”
If profit isn’t the drive behind The Modbo, what is?
“I feel like this is a vastly important community service,” Ciborowski said. “People really appreciate it — there aren’t many galleries like this in town, so that’s part of it. And then the other part of it, frankly, is I derive a great sense of my identity from this. It is a huge part of who I am. I’m 37 now. Ten years is a big chunk of my life that I’ve been doing this work … and it brings people great joy, and every First Friday I get to throw the best party in town. And I think it’s a meaningful party — it’s not just a lark. It creates community and creates space for people to be able to do things that they aren’t able to do otherwise. That’s enough of a drive to keep me going, is to know that I have created my own little niche.”
Ciborowski might be working double time in her devotion to The Modbo, but she’s under no illusion that art isn’t big business, or essential to the city.
“The business of the arts is booming,” she said. “There are so many surveys right now that show exactly how much cultural tourism brings to cities, and Colorado Springs is no different. It’s really on the rise. … From an economic perspective, simply put, the arts bring money to any town, and in our city we have so many galleries, we’ve got a lot of theater companies, our Philharmonic is world class. The arts in general, I think, are a huge economic indicator of how a town is doing, and Colorado Springs is just getting better and better partially because our arts scene is getting better and better.”
Within her own four walls, Ciborowski returns to her mission: creating joy.
“I have a huge soft spot for art that makes me laugh,” she said. “Especially right now, people are taking each other very, very, very seriously, and when I can get a spark of joy, or irony, or humor from a piece of art in this horribly serious world, that definitely draws me to it. So I’m showing a guy from Rhode Island in November, because I saw his art in Santa Fe and it made me laugh. And it’s little animals doing horrible things to each other, and it’s just wicked and awesome, and I can’t wait to have it up on the walls.”