Studio School debuts in 1920s former school space
Following a year and a half of planning and six months of physical labor, Logan Pajunen will open a gallery and art collective at the former Metro-Boulevard Alternative High School this week for Final Friday.
He still has a long to-do list.
"We just literally wrote it on the sheet rock in the gallery because I have to paint it before Friday," Pajunen says.
"I hope that my cadre of artists and tenants realize it's a work in progress. Art isn't pretty all the time. And it's messy. . . . You get it all messy and tear it down and then build it back up."
Pajunen, 34, spent his formative years in Wichita then moved with his family to Florida. He graduated there with a management degree and hospitality minor and then returned to Wichita.
He's done a variety of jobs, such as work in architectural and commercial salvage, and been "real invested" in MakeICT, a nonprofit “maker space” downtown.
"I started meeting artists and other creative people through that," Pajunen says.
"You just knew that that energy was there," he says of people being inspired by others creating around them.
Pajunen says he wanted to create the same thing for artists much like the already-full Commerce Street Arts District has done.
Studio School is open to artists and creative types in active stages of their careers.
If a potential tenant wants to pay but doesn't "fit into that kind of mission for the building, I don't want to do it," Pajunen says.
One exception will be for entrepreneurs who create a tangible product.
The 26,000-square-foot school at 751 S. George Washington Blvd., which also used to be Willard Elementary, was built in either 1924 or 1927. Pajunen isn't sure but knows there were additions in the 1940s and '50s and 2004.
There are a variety of spaces for artists to rent from $200 to $600 a month. There's also a woodworking shop that will double as a sculpture studio and can hold up to 20 people for $100 per person a month.
There's a former gym for large-format art installations and events that the public also can use as a venue.
Pajunen is bringing back the commercial kitchen at the school and hopes to have food trucks, catering and classes at the space.
There have been lots of inquiries at the school, and six tenants have signed up so far, Pajunen says.
"I feel really validated that this is something that the city needs. Affordable space that's . . . full service that you can just come in here and you can just start doing your thing just like that," he says.
"Being exposed to new ideas and having people come in and do cool stuff in those spaces is really great."
Pajunen demolished the former school's main office to create a gallery.
"It's important for people to be able to show off what they're doing."
Pajunen says he hopes this Final Friday "is the start of many, many more of these public events."
In addition to saving for years to do this, Pajunen says he has investors, including family members who believe in his vision.
"I have a legit business plan. I think I'm realizing that," he says. "Art is such a huge driver of the culture and the economy."
Studio School brings together all of Pajunen's interests, he says. That includes art, business, salvage, real estate and construction.
Also, he says, "I've always wanted to do something that would create some kind of community."
Pajunen thinks he's found it.
"This scratches all the itches that I've had in my life — like every single one of them. So I'm just so delighted to do this every day."