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Spring 2009 STAR Gallery Brings Culture, Traffic to Mall

The Steamtown Artists Renaissance, an artists’ cooperative in Scranton, PA, had space issues. After the building in which they were operating shut down for repairs, STAR displayed its works at a downtown hotel on the first Friday of every month, when all the galleries in town open up to the public.

“We were getting tired of carrying all of our stuff back and forth to the hotel every month,” says Simona Gavern, the coordinator for STAR. “I started searching for a permanent space and we thought the The Mall at Steamtown would be the best choice. It’s a beautiful mall. A lot of local people go there to shop.”

According to Gavern, the idea was well received by mall management. “I talked to them and explained that we could bring in our following of arts lovers,” Gavern says. “Management had open minds and a vision. And the courage to take a chance on us.”

STAR renovated an available inline and opened the STAR Fine Arts Gallery in September 2007. Gavern displayed her oil pastels, etchings and hand-sculpted ceramic pieces. STAR partners Jason Niznik, Jenny LaRosa, Bob Slachta and Robert Shotton displayed their photography, while Shotton set up custom framing and LaRosa did portraits. Tom Gates brought in his sculptures, Alexander Chuplygin, his contemporary science fiction art, and Julie Loftus, her watercolors, painted housewares and jewelry. Gerry Stankiewicz’s contributions were illustrations and caricatures, while Donya Albert brought in hand-painted fashion clothing. Customers often talk with the artist who created the work on display. “We have a schedule and we each put in our hours at the store,” says Gavern, who also works as an art therapist.

Showing their business savvy, the artists specifically focused on showing products at varied price points, to bring in the widest range of shoppers possible. For example, shoppers who might not want to spend on large paintings can buy smaller, limited-edition prints signed by the artists. The artists created other smaller items, too, such as cards and pendants.

As word of the gallery spread, other artists wanted to become part of it. “We didn’t have [enough display] space, but we took their names and numbers,” Gavern says. Soon, the list of interested artists grew to 20 pages.

Inspired, they approached mall management about holding art and music festivals in the mall. Again, the response was positive and the gallery began hosting monthly Artists Markets, during which about 25 to 30 additional artists display their work in the common area outside the gallery. Gavern’s husband, Tom, a STAR partner and local musician, now performs along with other musicians at the monthly Markets. A new website, StarGalleryAtSteamtown.typepad.com, is set to launch early in 2009, and will be used to publicize the store and engage the local community by inviting them to contribute to store murals.

“Management calls our section of the mall ‘the intellectual wing,’” Gavern says.

Specialty Leasing Manager Amy Zellers says she feels lucky to have STAR as a tenant. “When canvassing for new tenants, I look locally for unique concepts from people with passion, drive and excitement that will further our mission to create a shopping experience that’s exclusive to The Mall at Steamtown. The gallery is a unique addition to our tenant lineup that brings mall art lovers from northern and central Pennsylvania.”

She adds that the Artists Markets “create a community atmosphere within the mall where shopping and socializing are intertwined. The music is fantastic and the Artists Markets energize the entire shopping center.”

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Bernadette Starzee

Starzee, a Long Island, NY writer who covers business, sports and lifestyle topics, is a senior writer for SRR. She can be reached at .

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