Most people recognize artists as professionals who work for passion and skill, not for money. But if there were ever a group of artists who embody the phrase “not in it for the money,” it’s those who participate in A Square Deal. Several of them came together last night for an opening reception at the Grey Lodge, bringing art to life in the Northeast.
A Square Deal began in 2006, when longtime friends Beth Medoway and Colleen Hammond grew tired of their work in the nonprofit sector. Medoway, a self-described art lover and collector, teamed up with Hammond, and artist and art educator to bring art to the pubic on its most basic level.
“We’re like match.com for artists and patron,” Medoway (who grew up on McKinley Street near Castor and Devereaux avenues) told NEast Philly of the concept. The goal of A Square Deal is to bring all types of art to all types of people to encourage art appreciation, rather than the analysis aspect expected in art classes and galleries. Medoway went on to explain: “We want to reach people who are too intimidated to go to galleries.”
The deal on the squares
All pieces for A Square Deal have the same general format: a set of six 20cm masonite squares — cut one-by-one by Hammond’s husband Stephen. From there, the topic and medium can be virtually anything — from a series of photos depicting city buildings, to oil paintings of cars and trucks, to mixed media.
And the artists are as varied as their works. Though Hammond and Medoway shoot for a “certain level of quality,” as Medoway puts it, they’ve worked with self-taught artists, as well as those who’ve trained professionally for decades.
Art for everyone, in the Northeast and beyond
One of the younger artists is Julia Blaukopf. A 26-year-old 2006 graduate of University of the Arts, Blaukopf has been featured in Metro Philadelphia, Philadelphia Weekly and Philadelphia magazine for her work. To top it off, she’s nearly finished her book – a collection of photos, essays and collages from time spent working with the Women’s Empowerment Organization in Ghana, west Africa.
Blaukopf (whose father is a graduate of Northeast High) became involved with A Square Deal after connecting with Hammond in the Philly arts scene, and told NEast Philly she’s done more exhibits than she can count. “Art should be everywhere, and should speak for everybody,” she said.
For everybody, indeed. Hammond and Medoway see A Square Deal as a way to better all the things they love in Philadelphia. Artists get a chance to display their talents and interact with one another and with appreciators, while small businesses get to branch out from their typical bar and cafe clientele. Getting back to their nonprofit roots, the founders made sure to include one important stipulation in the business: a percentage of the proceeds from A Square Deal sales go to charitable organizations. With squares selling at a reasonable $40 – $150 dollars, the exhibits have raised more than $4,000 since the first show in December 2006.
Drink beers, admire squares
So how did a an art-based business with work from more than 100 global artists end up in Northeast Philadelphia?
Scoats, as the Grey Lodge Pub owner is best know, met Hammon and Medoway in Frankford, where the two asked him to do a square. From there, the idea to host an exhibit came naturally, with the intention of “increasing the visibility of art in the Northeast,” as Scoats told NEast Philly.
“I look at the Grey Lodge at this point as first and foremost a bar and restaurant,” he said, “but there are other things we can be doing.”
The Grey Lodge Pub will host A Square Deal for the next six weeks, beginning with last night’s two-hour opening reception, which included free food and a cash bar. Thirty percent of every sale will go to the charity of Scoats’ choice: the Philadelphia Committee to end Homelessness.
Forget the galleries
But for Hammond, Medoway and the rest of the artists involved with A Square Deal, it’s not about the money. Medoway, who acknowledged the recession has hit everyone hard, said she thinks arts should be an “affordable, accessible, intimate” part of everyday life. And that doesn’t have to include a gallery. Medoway said the goal is to promote art and artists, not compete with galleries.
“I lived in the Northeast for 20 years, Medoway said. “We want this to be in every part of the city — not just Northern Liberties and Center City.”