Micah Daw is part of Gallery Protocol’s first class at The Fermenter, an open studio for local artists. The gallery will host a show curated exclusively from Fermenter artists once a year. Photo by Ciera Battleson

So what is contemporary art, really?

It’s an open-ended question that Gainesville’s newest art space, Gallery Protocol, hopes to help the city answer.

“At the most basic level, it’s art that’s tuned into the zeitgeist,” director Chase Westfall told me from his office, a small square that opens into the front room of the gallery. “There is no one style or one set of materials.”

Gallery Protocol opened its doors, quietly, in November last year. With two successful shows under its belt, the gallery is ready to make its presence more widely known with its third installation. The opening of David Humphrey’s show, “A Horse Walks Into a Painting,” will be Jan. 16 from 7 to 10 p.m.

Westfall’s single-word job title isn’t reflective of his role as construction worker, office manager, graphic designer and, yes, the man who orchestrates what’s hanging in the gallery.

But Westfall isn’t just curating the art on his own walls. He is poised to engage Gainesville in a conversation about contemporary art. As this scene grows, with spaces like F.L.A. Gallery and the Church of Holy Colors, he’s ready to further develop local taste and make the art accessible to everyone.

“There are a lot of arts enthusiasts in Gainesville, but there are people who aren’t up necessarily up to speed as to what contemporary art is,” he said. “And the fastest way to get them up to speed is to make it available to them.”

The gallery will almost exclusively import works from beyond Gainesville city limits; Humphrey hails from New York City and is on faculty at Yale’s art school.

The challenge, in Westfall’s eyes, is discerning quality contemporary art from the parody of contemporary art – spotting a broom in the gallery and wondering if it’s the piece on display or not.

“But if you think about that, there’s something incredibly ingenious about a space where you can get somebody to slow down and think about a broom,” he said. “That’s a beautiful thing.”

Westfall graduated from UF with a BFA in painting in 2008. After earning a masters at University of Georgia, he moved up Tennessee and didn’t expect to come back to Gainesville.

This August, he moved his family back down below sea level. For the first month and a half on the new job, he went home covered from head to toe in drywall dust from the construction work. The office tasks of the job came later.

The gallery is located at 2029 NW 6th St. The property is owned by Nick Moskowitz, who initially bought it for his t-shirt business, and foots the bill for the entire operation.

The main gallery space, however, is just one segment of the miniature campus. Attached to the front gallery is an apartment for artists in residence. The back of the property houses The Fermenter, a studio residency program for local artists.

The Fermenter gives four artists 24/7 access to the studio space.

Before the first round of artists moved in, there were moveable walls, clamp lights and some trash cans.

“It’s a tabula rasa,” Westfall said.

Now, the space looks decidedly like an artist studio: partially finished canvases, plastic figurines and countless tubes of paint have joined the sparse initial fixtures. There is also now a loft space, complete with an Afghan rug and Christmas lights wrapped around its base.

Micah Daw is a member of the inaugural Fermenter class. Daw went to UF with Westfall, who asked him to be a part of the space.

“No one gets just invited to have a space like this,” Daw said. Applications are now open for the second Fermenter class.

Daw’s art uses bright, geometric shapes to play with 2D and 3D illusions. Up until now, all of his work was framed by square or rectangular canvases. Since moving into The Fermenter, he’s been casually experimenting with shape, painting on his old drum heads.

During the Humphreys opening, Daw and his three compatriots will host an open studio night.

“You can feel very isolated and lonely as a painter,” Daw said. “It’s cool to see they’re as crazy as me.”