I can distinctly recall the brisk November night last year when a painter friend invited me to swing by a collaborative art space that had just popped up in downtown Syracuse. Intrigued to observe what happens when the eccentrics of the city converge under one roof, I curiously made my way to this space at 451 S. Warren Street dubbed The Vault. The room was still pretty raw: white walls dappled with spray paint and a few unfinished canvases propped up, poised to absorb the strokes of an inspired hand. A free-standing toddler-sized basketball hoop begged for attention on one side of the room while other playful participants took advantage of the open floor to propel themselves around in a wheelchair or practice tricks on a skateboard. One of these spirited wheelchair riders was none other than The Vault proprietor, Justin Pellingra.
The venue wasn’t officially open yet, but Pellingra had already opened the doors to let curious minds wander around his newly acquired property. As I observed this young entrepreneur roll around in what could be best described as an adult indoor playground, I wondered what would become of this venue that at the time seemed to have little direction, but infinite potential.
It has been a year since The Vault opened it’s doors and in that short span of time, Pellingra has run the gamut of artistic expression, fully utilizing this amorphous space by keeping the weekly schedule packed with live music, art showcases, gaming tournaments, film screenings, fashion shows and a flurry of educational and entrepreneurial opportunities to help local artists network and provide a platform for them to display their diverse talents to the community.
Pellingra has tirelessly cultivated his multimedia venture to elevate the arts in Syracuse and revive the culture he knows is waiting to make a comeback. The arts in Syracuse have gained intense momentum over the past few months thanks largely to Pellingra’s efforts. In the face of this success, code enforcement has forced Pellingra to relocate, but he is determined to uphold his mission to illuminate the artistic vibrancy of this talented city. I recently caught up with him at The Vault to discuss the past, present and future outlook for The Vault:
Ally Dean: What is your role at The Vault?
Justin Pellingra: Overall I want to shape the city. I see my role as being a social architect. I see Syracuse as this place that’s partially developed right now. It’s like a blank canvas in many ways and it’s just a matter of who’s going to step up and do it. I noticed there weren’t the proper venues for all this talent in the city. So I opened up my own place to have that platform and I’m letting everybody in. If you’re cool and you’re serious about what you’re doing or you have a passion, I’m gonna give you this platform. I film and do photography for everybody so they have a press kit to put out. I didn’t study film or photography in school so for me this was my education.
Now I have all these students coming and that I’m training to do live audio, recorded audio, interviews, how to be behind the camera and how to direct other people and learning how to get funding and all the resources we need for production. One of the other elements is to build the film industry here in Syracuse. That’s another blank canvas that’s a major industry for economic development which this city needs. But I think this city lacks visionaries. A lot of the people that are in charge in this city are doing it the same way it’s been done.