Arts & Culture

Tough Ass Crew Gallery to Close After Two Years

Matt Alvis of Tough Ass Crew wearing a shirt that reads "Human Race Semi-Finalist" stands in front of a gallery of pop-art stencil paintings of Amy Winehouse, Milla Jokovich in Fifth Element, Danny Devito in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and other celebrities.
Matt Alvis will be shutting the doors on the Tough Ass Crew gallery in NoDa at the end of the month. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

When Matt Alvis moved into the former Sunshine Daydreams space next to Evening Muse back in September 2020, he expected to have two months to run his Tough Ass Crew Pop-Up Art Gallery. 

Subleasing the space from his next-door neighbors at Evening Muse, his time there kept getting extended while they decided what to do with it. He was grateful for all that extra time to sell and show art — “I’ve outstayed my welcome by 12 times,” he recently told us about his two-year tenure — but the instability and uncertainty about when he’d have to leave was wearing on him. 

“A comparison I use for people is from the movie The Princess Bride,” Alvis said. “For the entire time I’ve been here it’s been, ‘Goodnight Wesley, sleep well, we’ll most likely kill you in the morning.’” 

He’s half-joking, of course, as Alvis acknowledges that he was always ensured he would have 60 days to move out “whenever the hammer dropped.” 

Consider the hammer dropped. 

After having shown and sold work from more than 100 local artists in the space over the last two years, Tough Ass Crew will have to pack up and be out by the end of September. The original Evening Muse lease has run its course, and while the music venue will remain, they aren’t renewing the lease for the spot next door.

A “For Rent” sign in the window at the time of this writing lists $4,727 as the asking price for monthly rent, well beyond what Alvis is able or willing to pay for it. 

So what’s next? Tough Ass Crew existed as an artist co-op before the gallery opened and will continue to after it’s gone.

As for Alvis, he was a guerilla artist before he had a brick-and-mortar location — building a name for himself locally as StencilSpray — and he’s going back to his DIY ways. Or, in continuing the Princess Bride metaphor: “Now I’m going Dread Pirate Roberts.”

In a more specific description of his plans, Alvis explained, “I’m not renting buildings anymore, I’m renting windows.” 

His plan is to redefine window shopping with his new venture Art Cart NoDa, set to launch on Nov. 1

“I’m going to continue to bring art to NoDa by taking all these abandoned storefronts and taking the paper down and putting art up,” he said. “There can’t be any customers through the door so people can select through these windows, call or order online, and sit at a restaurant and we’ll bring them art there. This is the new structure.”

A slew of celebrity-focused pop-art stencil paintings on display behind a window on the main strip of north Charlotte's NoDa neighborhood
Alvis already has work for sale behind the window at Evening Muse. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

Already by the time we chatted in early September, Alvis had filled some of the windows at Evening Muse and in one of the abandoned storefronts facing East 36th Street with art. 

Alvis pointed out that, for as long as the Tough Ass Crew [Extended] Pop-Up existed, it was the only art gallery left in the neighborhood. He treasures the time he spent in the space, meeting new artists and allowing both established creatives and up-and-comers to make some money in his gallery. 

He also treasures the idea that NoDa is an art-centered community, which inspired his choice of location to launch his new window-shopping venture. 

“That’s a central part coming into the neighborhood for anybody,” he said. “If they’re from out of town, they’re coming in an Uber or on the light rail, and if they come on the light rail, I don’t want the question to be, ‘I thought this was the art district.’ I will try to overwhelm them from all of the places where people have been priced out.”

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