The 1930s-era Regent Square Theater rolled the credits for the last time, but it will soon be an expanded home for its next-door neighbor, Concept Art Gallery, which has unexpectedly found its business thriving.
“Covid has actually been pretty friendly to art buying,” says co-owner Alison Oehler who notes that people are thinking about their personal spaces more and wanting to be surrounded by beautiful things. “Retail sales were fairly good in 2020,” she adds.
The gallery’s online auction business is also booming, selling everything from art collections to antique furniture. So they started looking for more space and found a lot of it in the adjacent Regent Square Theater. The former art house movie theater run by Pittsburgh Filmmakers — a film school that used to operate several theaters, owned by the Pittsburgh Center for Arts & Media — was struggling financially even before the pandemic. It has been closed since 2019, and several efforts at a revival have stalled.
The theater was known for its original programming of foreign, independent and other non-mainstream fare and as the hub of the beloved annual Three Rivers Film Festival, which is now defunct.
“We heard from Filmmakers that it was not coming back, once we started talking to them about it,” says Oehler, “so it seemed like kind of a fortunate circumstance that we could potentially help out Filmmakers by purchasing it and taking it off their hands and also benefit our business.”
Oehler wouldn’t say how much they paid for the multifaceted space, which will allow for some creative reuses.
Two storefronts on either side provide good space for single-artist, pop-up shows, says Oehler, who owns Concept with Sam Berkovitz. “Our hope is that we’ll be able to convert the lobby area into an exhibition space as well. And then we’ll be able to add some more offices, which we need because our staff is growing, and a bigger photo studio, which we desperately need because we have a really small photo studio here.”
The owners frequently find art furniture and design objects which are tricky to photograph in their current studio, says Oehler. “So this will let us sort of build the photo studio of our dreams, which we’re excited about.”
They’re also seeking to add another photographer and art cataloger to their 11-person staff.
The original Concept Art Gallery space will go back to exhibiting artwork. Right now, a lot of space is taken up by auction storage overflow, which will transfer to the theater.
The iconic marquee will remain.
“I know that’s been a big question for everyone, but our real sincere hope is to keep the marquee and utilize it potentially for some kind of artist’s interaction or just to advertise the shows and auctions and things that we’re doing,” says Oehler.
Work on the theater will begin in about six months. Concept Art Gallery will be celebrating its 50th anniversary next year. In July, they’re opening an exhibition entitled Full Circle Pittsburgh-based artists may apply by submitting photos of artwork responding to the theme of the circle “as both shape and metaphor.”