Located at 523 S. Elm St. -- a part of downtown Greensboro's arts and antiques district -- the Artistika's decor is a far cry from the concrete floors of Go! Rehearsal Studios or Cat's Cradle, making smokers a little self-conscious to light up in a building that exudes class.
The wooden ceilings and grainy pale brick walls are juxtaposed with colorful tapestries hanging from the walls. The 20-by-30 stage was built so that all the wiring is under the performance space and reaches the $25,000 sound system tucked away in the far corner.
An iMac and a statue of Cupid sit on the L-shaped bar close to the door. It's a mix of the old and new -- of technology and antiques -- and it gives the venue an unpretentious but dignified atmosphere. And smoking is permitted at the Artistika.
The relatively empty streets are a sharp contrast to the Artistika's interior. The owner, former advertising executive Hugo Pascale, and house manager, film industry veteran Audra Angela, have converted an old hardware store into a 5,000-square-foot concert venue.
Pascale said the Artistika was built in a location without much competition on the street or in the city.
"We are aiming for the live music fans that are going to other cities instead of staying in Greensboro," he said.
Pascale and Angela -- neither of whom had run a club before -- began researching revitalization in the state and realized their plans for the Artistika were in sync with their findings. "We found the most crucial element of any downtown (revitalization project) has to be that it reflects the arts and cultures of its residents," Angela said.
The foundation of the Artistika began in 1997, when Pascale bought the property and slowly began construction. Since its Christmas 2000 opening, Pascale and Angela have focused on bringing more live music to Greensboro.
Pascale creates a compilation CD each month highlighting several tracks from bands with forthcoming performances. In addition to providing live music Wednesday through Saturday, Pascale plans to include a latin music showcase and informal jam sessions to the weekly roster.
"It's obviously different than hearing a band in a bar -- the band commands the room here,"
On March 23, Wilmington-based pop-rock outfit Velvet were playing as several police walked in and chatted with Angela. While the sight of police at a concert venue could evoke negative reflects for the club, both Pascale and Angela said they have experienced no problems with crime since the Artistika's opening.
"I'm surprised that downtown Greensboro (and most downtown areas in the state have) this reputation of being 'unsafe,'" Angela said. "I feel safer here than at the Four Seasons' parking lot."
The police seen visiting the Artistika, Angela said, are present because they are fans, not watchdogs, of the club. She said six to eight police officers stop by the venue regularly. "We're so thankful for the word-of-mouth," Angela added.
Joe Trappe, keyboardist for Suitcase, said the mix of the venue's theater-like atmosphere and attitude make a better musical experience for both musicians and audiences.
"It's quickly becoming the musicians' favorite place to play," Trappe said. "(Pascale) makes it all the much more possible for the customer to get the best musical performance possible."
So the Artistika has a healthy relationship with the bands and even the police love them. It seems they have everything a budding concert venue in a slowly revitalized area would need -- except people.
At Suitcase's Friday show, the Artistika's 250-person capacity was filled with only two dozen people, most of whom were friends of the band. Velvet's show had about 35 people.
Pascale said that although the artist and audience responses to the venue have been positive, it nevertheless takes about six months for a business to flourish. Originally intending to open in October 2000, construction delays did not allow the Artistika to open until Christmas.
Despite the loss of momentum, the Artistika is building a clientele, albeit slowly. "We are setting up a circle of bands," he added. "The first time they come, we get 20 people -- by the second, you get 50."
Aside from fliers across Greensboro, several calendar advertisements and the Internet site www.artistika.org, Pascale said the venue also takes more of a hands-off approach to promoting itself. Citing his almost two decades of advertising experience, Pascale noted that the best publicity comes from either word-of-mouth or the band's efforts.
While potential customers have yet to discover the Artistika in droves, Pascale did note that more people were walking along Elm Street at night. Ultimately, he said, revitalization of a downtown and the vitalization of a new venue both take time. Trappe echoed these statements.
"We wanted to see what we heard from our musician-type friends," Trappe said. "We assume that it really hasn't hit its fruition yet."
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