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Former diner transformed

Hortonville artists open Free Spot

By Scott Bellile

Update: Claire Abitz said on April 30 that Free Spot’s name will be changed to The Match Factory. The name references Hortonville’s past history of being home to one of the world’s first match light factories. The Free Spot references have been kept in the article.

The former Patti’s Place restaurant in downtown Hortonville is about to become a “Free Spot” for community arts and dining.

Claire Abitz, owner of the Standard Projects art studio, is working with curator Kate Mothes and Otter Creek Sports Bar and Grill Owner Mike Zelencik to renovate a vacant building next door to Zelencik’s restaurant.

Last September Patti Christian closed Patti’s Place, 116 W. Main St., after 13 years of business. She now cooks at Otter Creek.

Now 116 W. Main St. will be Free Spot. Abitz describes Free Spot in her mission statement as “a collaborative, interdisciplinary, artist-led contemporary arts space with a mission to present exhibitions and projects.” She said she plans to hang art, hold performances and teach classes to groups who rent the space, and Otter Creek plans to supply its menu.

Right now Free Spot is a mess of dust, wood and nails, but Abitz said the interior is about 90 percent renovated. She plans to hold an opening night event May 13 from 6-10 p.m.

A weekly Wednesday night film series is scheduled to begin there on May 18 at 7 p.m. with a screening of the 1983 hip-hop film “Wild Style.”

Gutting the building, Abitz said in the former kitchen she’s already uncovered several windows and a door that had become lost when somebody installed walls upon walls at some point. Another find was some Victorian-style wallpaper of flowers and peacocks glued to the wall in the west annex room, which she’ll preserve.

“That kind of stuff, that’s fun when you find it,” Abitz said.

She aims to maintain the historic feel of the building, which Zelencik estimates could be as old as 150 years.

Zelencik said he’s never seen a woman hammer like Abitz does. She’s also renovated the former police station on Nash Street that is now home to Standard Projects and Fox Valley Found + Collected.

“I love doing stuff like this,” Abitz said.

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