No gallery? No problem.

That was the response from the Buffalo Society of Artists when Bob Drozdowski of the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center approached the organization about hosting its 116th annual Catalogue Exhibition. The 121-year-old organization agreed on one condition: Instead of paying rent to hang its prestigious show on the ceramic tile walls of NACC's makeshift exhibition space, they would build their own professional gallery space.

"It was a proposition we couldn't say no to," Drozdowski said.

So, over the course of a week earlier this summer, a crew led by BSA board member George Grace hung 8 feet of drywall on three walls of the space and boxed in its supporting columns, turning what was once a high school cafeteria into a gleaming new art space.

Before the BSA's contribution, the space was a less-than-ideal place to hang art.

"It was kind of like a musical scale. Some paintings would go up, some would go down. And they couldn't really be hung consistently," said BSA president Gary Wolfe. "And we thought, in lieu of rent, why not replace the walls?"

When the exhibition opens at 6 tonight, the new NACC gallery will boast some 60 works selected by juror Sandra Q. Firmin, a curator at the University at Buffalo Art Gallery. It will also be just the latest in a series of improvements to the NACC, the former Niagara Falls High School, which was adapted into an arts center in 2001 by a committed group of artists and preservationists. The building now contains 60 artist studios, various arts organizations, two theaters and two galleries.

"Being an old high school, all the areas have been reused," Drozdowski said. "All our old classrooms are now art studios, they're virtually full. And then common areas like the cafeteria have been reused into the art gallery, the old library's been reused into a community theater."

Wolfe, who helped to hang the work in the gallery this week, was impressed with the results.

"It worked out really well," he said. "The work looks terrific. We've increased the gallery space and hanging space so that when the NACC has future shows, they can use that space as well. So it's kind of a community outreach, a collaboration, an enhancement of the whole arts landscape, providing additional hanging space for all artists in Western New York."