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Elsewhere: Installation Art

GREENSBORO, NC -- At first glance, Elsewhere looks like another Greensboro, NC, antique shop or gallery, open late in the evening for a First Friday festival. But this living museum is piled with toys, textiles, and unusual installation work from resident artists, students and visitors.

Historically, the building on South Elm Street was once Joe and Sylvia Gray’s army surplus shop, with a boarding house upstairs. After her husband’s death, Sylvia began to purchase other goods, like textile remnants, that she could sell in the shop. She began to visit the local secondhand and thrift shops, adding clothing, dolls, books and housewares to what was becoming a collection of collections. By the end of her life, the shop was more like a hoard, with a thin path allowing a few shoppers to make their careful way inside.

In 2003, Joe and Sylvia’s grandson, George Scheer, and collaborator Stephanie Sherman, saw the potential of the building and the space, as a massive installation instead of a thriftshop. Instead of selling off Sylvia’s inventory, the new curators invited resident and visiting artists to create works from Sylvia’s collections (as seen in photos 1 - 2) Each year, dozens of artists in usual mediums come to Greensboro to engage Sylvia’s collections, and to take part in forming and re-forming this space.

Greensboro locals told me that Sylvia had become particular about who could purchase from her, and what she’d allow them to buy, but the Elsewhere curators couldn’t definitively confirm this local legend. Even if it is legend, the building’s current incarnation as a living museum, where resident artists, students and visitors are encouraged to make new works without taking anything off the premises, surely follows her collecting spirit.

The first floor experience is half dusty attic, half treasure gallery. Wheelless toy cars, hardcovers with cracked spines, and fabric remnants fill the downstairs space. Care Bears! Little Golden Books! (as seen in photo 3) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! This is a museum where touching is encouraged. Visitors of all ages pick up books and toys, asking their friends if they remember, too.

Upstairs, the area that was once a boarding house holds more collections, and further installation art. One room is all ribbons, piled ankle-deep on the ground, waiting to be woven into a new project, or perhaps just used as a pillow. One room is filled with mirrors and scrap pieces of glass, just waiting for a Superman fanatic to build a real-life Fortress of Solitude. It’s hard to walk through these rooms without imagining Sylvia collecting these items, piece by individual piece, into massive collections of hundreds of shoes, jars and jars of buttons, thousands of ribbons.

Completed projects include an adult-size fort built out of folded clothes. One room uses helmets, olive green blankets, and uniforms, all leftovers from the building’s previous life as an army surplus outlet, to turn an attic bedroom into a WWII foxhole; and another room resembles a peaceful apothecary with drying sage and tarot cards.  These installations were created by some of Elsewhere’s artists-in-residence. Because the raw materials were acquired by one person, Sylvia Gray, there’s a creative cohesiveness between wildly different installations.

Elsewhere is open for walk-in visitors, introducing passers-by to a unique side of Greenboro’s craft scene, as well as organizing student classes and community events. Elsewhere accepts artists, curators and makers to take advantage of Sylvia Grey’s collections and the building’s physical space. Visit for information or to apply.


606 South Elm Street, Greensboro, NC 27406

Open Wednesday through Saturday 1-10pm, March through November, with special events on Greenboro’s First Friday festivals.

All photos courtesy of Meg Stivison