Grandview artist co-op Couchfire Collective stresses the importance of the group in its successful shows and events like Agora and Independents Day, which will be returning to Gay Street in September.

Grandview artist co-op Couchfire Collective stresses the importance of the group in its successful shows and events like Agora and Independents Day, which will be returning to Gay Street in September.

Yet a group is only as strong as its individual members. And as we sit in the large, empty studio that will debut this weekend as Matchbox, the city's newest multi-use arts space, Couchfire president Adam Brouillette is talking up the contributions of the artist beside him, Ginnie Baer.

"We're used to being so formal and straightforward about things," he said. "Ginnie does a good job of encouraging us to be goofy. She's like, 'No, this is supposed to be fun.'"

Baer's association with Squirrelly Girls, a collective established at her alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, also provided Couchfire with a gallery show to open Matchbox: Supercell. Plus a firm deadline to have the space ready.

Organizers will arrive Thursday from Richmond with the touring exhibition and work with Couchfire members and interns to have it installed for a 6 p.m. reception on Saturday.

The collective has been actively exploring options for a permanent venue for art, music and performance for some time. They've talked with Easton management about filling empty retail space, to Capital Crossroads about what's in store for City Center's footprint, and to landlords Nationwide Realty Investors about a regular event schedule in the Arena District (expect something from that next spring).

They hope that Matchbox, located at the front of Couchfire's Junctionview home base, represents the first step toward a stronger everyday presence in the community.

"The possibilities are really exciting. We just want to make sure we're not building on sand," Brouillette said. "A gallery here, we're on our own turf. We'll get this going first and see how it goes."

Playing host to touring exhibitions, a task usually handled here by much bigger institutions, was a goal achieved quickly with Baer's help.

Supercell brings together over a dozen artists from six states working on the theme of storms. The pieces to be displayed include a tornado in a jar by Kristin Beal-DeGrandmont and storm-centric tiaras by Suzanna Fields and founding Squirrelly Girl Sandra Luckett.

As Baer explained, the space will be sparsely lit to suggest a power outage (flashlights are welcome), but guides in sashes will be on hand to steer patrons. The show will be set to a storm-themed soundtrack with everyone from the Weather Girls to Garth Brooks.

In addition to organizing the show's local stop, Baer's a contributor to the exhibition and has opened it up to fellow Columbus artists Jeff Regensburger and Laura Alexander.

A feeling of looseness and freedom to improvise marks all of Squirrelly Girls' efforts, and Baer said she was encouraged by Luckett to help the show grow. "It's really started as a group of VCU students looking for something fun to do as a sort of release from how heavy grad school felt. All this critical thinking is great, but what if you just want to make something?"

Brouillette explained that the vibe at Matchbox will remain loose beyond Supercell, throughout a summer of shows that includes a third-anniversary reunion for Couchfire members and a food-themed exhibition organized by Amy Neiwirth.

The success of last month's Agora, the biggest to date, has given the group the financial freedom to spend some time assessing Matchbox's viability as a business model and nailing down partnerships.

So far, Available Light Theatre has agreed to stage shows there in the fall, stilts choreographer Kristina Isabelle is developing a new piece to work with its low ceilings and discussions have started with promoters Ben Hamilton and Scotty Niemet. The plan is to schedule one or two live music events a month.

"By fall, the way the space exists and runs will be much more solidified and probably a lot different than what we have envisioned now,- Brouillette said. -That's kind of how we do things: run at it, it turns into something, you make adjustments on the fly. Once you get there, you know what works, what doesn't."