A recently rehabbed mid-century warehouse is where the important and emerging artists of Portsmouth perform, converge and collaborate.
Things just got a lot more interesting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. That’s thanks to the recent opening of 3S Artspace, a much-anticipated contemporary arts center in the seacoast town’s blossoming north end.
An easy walk from Market Square, 3S is housed in a smartly rehabbed, mid-century warehouse. Three distinct yet intrinsically connected spaces make up the whole (hence the name): a flexible performing arts space, a large noncommercial gallery, and Block Six, a refreshingly affordable restaurant.
Sitting on one of Block Six’s mid-mod-style couches, looking out the huge glass-paneled garage door, 3S founder and executive director Chris Greiner beams when he talks about his passion project. “There’s a center of gravity here in Portsmouth that’s really unique. I saw it in the nine years I was at the Music Hall. I can’t think of one visiting act that didn’t say, ‘Man this is such a great town!’ How do we bottle that energy? I think 3S is a container for some of that.”
Approachable yet edgy, it’s a 21st-century nonprofit that aims to present bold, emerging artists while entertaining and engaging audiences. Plans for 12 affordable artist studios further cement Greiner’s commitment to supporting working artists. The 38-year-old musician and live-music producer worked toward creating an alternative arts center for more than a decade. “My mom would say I’ve wanted to do this in some form or another since I was 15,” he says.
With a degree in English literature and music from New York University and two years working at NYC’s famed Knitting Factory under his belt, Greiner landed in Portsmouth in 2001. Besides having worked at the Music Hall, he is on the city’s Cultural Commission and co-founded the much-loved RPM Challenge. Those experiences engrained him in, and endeared him to, the community.
Greiner’s time in Portsmouth sparked the desire to do what he describes as “something less formal and more grassroots” in the local arts and culture world. Ultimately, the goal was to foster local creativity while also presenting artists from outside the area. “Local artists having collisions with established touring artists – something meaningful comes from that,” Greiner muses.
New Hampshire artist Carly Glovinski was chosen for the inaugural installation in the light-filled, 1,800-square-foot gallery space. The scale of Glovinski’s LAND-LINE exhibition is perfect for the gallery’s soaring 25-foot ceiling. It got a nod among the “critics’ picks” in The Boston Globe.
Home to the only flexible, mid-sized performance space in the area, 3S’s programming encompasses music, theater, film, and festivals. Early shows included LA-based Brazilian singer-songwriter Rodrigo Amarante, comedian Eugene Mirman (who lends his voice to TV’s Bob’s Burgers), and a screening the documentary on basketball history, From Deep.
Block Six draws folks into 3S as a comfortable spot to nosh and imbibe amid rotating exhibits on the restaurant’s walls. “We hope that food and drink might bring people in originally and then encourage them to explore the gallery,” explains Greiner. Glance over the bartender’s shoulder and past the booze-lined shelves, and you’ll be looking directly into the lobby at the center of the building. No coincidence there. And securing a chef with solid street cred doesn’t hurt either: Sam Ostrow, once with the Black Trumpet and Kittery, Maine’s Black Birch, is at the helm.
And how about art to go? 3S’s vintage, adorable Tiny Art Vending Machine tempts passersby with an alluring message: “Insert 4 quarters = 1 piece of original art.” The prospect of leaving 3S with my own tiny art purchase is one of many reasons I’ll be returning, and often.