We need to get people downtown and we need to get feet on the street,” Brad Ford said of the non-profit art gallery he plans to open. “This is a way to activate unused space and get people interested.”

For the past three years, 45-year-old Erie native Brad Ford has spent much of his free time planning the art gallery he will open Saturday.

If his landlord tells him to leave when his short-term lease is up because a for-profit tenant visited the gallery, a formerly empty space in downtown Erie’s Masonic Temple, and wants it, Ford will be thrilled.

And if other entrepreneurs copy his non-profit model and start similar galleries, Ford will cheer them on.

That’s because Erie Art Gallery is as much about creating community as it is about exhibiting creations.

“We need to get people downtown and we need to get feet on the street,” Ford said of efforts to revitalize Erie. “This is a way to activate unused space and get people interested.”

It’s also a way to take greater risks with the art, Ford believes. The non-profit model eases the pressure to sell art, opening the door to experimenting with lesser-known artists on the local scene as well as seeking submissions nationwide for themed exhibits.

Both missions attracted the attention of now former Erie City Councilman David Brennan, who Ford describes as instrumental in helping to get the gallery off the ground. Ford said Brennan, who is director of the Erie office of Bostwick Design Partnership, volunteered to tour potential gallery sites and also shared useful contacts.

“Any time we bring art into our community, it can be transformational,” Brennan said. “We need an active and vibrant 24-7 downtown where families and people want to live.” Ford’s gallery will be another amenity that makes downtown attractive and can “make a difference in how people view that neighborhood,” he said.

Brennan also sees Ford’s effort as a pilot project that might be used citywide to address vacant storefronts. “If we have a vacant storefront, why not do something? What could you lose?” Brennan asked. “If you are driving people to those storefronts, they see what’s around there” and maybe decide to visit again, relocate or start a business there or nearby, he said.

At this point, Ford, a software project manager, artist and former Erie City Council candidate, has with the help of some donors and volunteers fronted the money and completed the work necessary to ensure the gallery opens with an exhibit of local art on Saturday. He is seeking donations to pay for the completion and filing of non-profit status, which would allow the gallery to seek grants.