From the Providence City News series "Buy Providence: My Business"
With the rising number of talented artists calling Providence their home, more and more of them need places to display and sell their work, outside of their studios. Enter the gallery. Just off the rows of neighborhood markets on eclectic Wickenden Street, you will find a handful of contemporary gallery spaces like 5Traverse, the brainchild of sculptor Jesse Smith and currently managed by gallery director Maya Allison.
At 5Traverse, collectors and buyers alike will find a wide range of contemporary art made by local artists. With prices ranging from $20 to $2,000, anyone can walk into the gallery and sift through their flat files to find a collection of original watercolors, drawings, and photographs. While you’re there, you might as well soak in an exhibit by two local artists every month.
City News caught up with Allison just before she left for Miami last week to attend a prestigious international art fair, where she’ll be representing and showing off the work of many Providence artists that have shown at 5Traverse.
Why did you open a gallery in Providence?
Jesse Smith, who is the owner and founder of 5Traverse, opened the gallery in 2007 because he saw great deal of talent and creativity at work in Rhode Island. He wanted to create a place where people could discover the work that was happening, with things that were created here. There aren’t many places to see the work that is being created here so he wanted to meet that need.
What’s the best part of being a Wickenden Street merchant?
This neighborhood is especially nice for us because it has a nice intersection of people from the academic communities of RISD and Brown, and also people who are native to Providence. A lot of visitors and tourists will also come to this area so we get a nice cross-section of different communities. On Wickenden Street, we’ve got a fantastic art supply store in Utrecht, the Coffee Exchange, and boutiques like the Curatorium – all right next to and within walking distance to the gallery. It’s really a nice community center and destination for people in the city. There is a real creative economy thriving on Wickenden Street that we find appealing.
What kinds of art can the public typically see if they walk in to your gallery?
Every month we have different artwork up and we usually show two different artists per month. In November, if folks came in, they saw wire sculptures by Lisa Perez and paintings and drawings by Peter Owen. In October, if they came in, they would’ve been able to see a sound and sculpture installation by Michael Bizon and oil paintings by David Barnes. In December, they will see glass sculptures by Steven Easton and an installation by Jo Dery. It’s really a huge range of work and what we think of as contemporary art, or art that is exploring something that is relevant to contemporary day experience, made by living artists.
What do you think sets Providence apart from other cities in terms of its art resources?
The interesting thing about Providence is that for a long time it had a reputation of having a really active underground art community, largely due to the RISD influence and people being active in the art world. But recently the reputation of Providence being the Creative Capital has really grown and people, artists, are moving here from all over the country because they want to be a part of this community. As a result, there are even more communities of artists in Providence. There’s a sense of it being a really vibrant place to be making work, and talking to other artists about your work, and participating in an art economy – not just financially, but in the city’s value as a place to live and as a destination for artists and collectors. That makes it a real special place and I’ve been really honored to be a part of it.
What’s the gallery got in store for the holidays? If people were looking to buy art as a gift for the holidays, what can they buy at 5Traverse?
We have a huge array of work and prices of work available. In addition to what’s going to be in the gallery, we also have what is called the ‘flat files,’ which are drawers full of art available to buy. You can come in, look through the files, and pick something out. They include beautiful watercolors, ornate drawings, and lovely photographs. The prices range from $20 to $2,000. There really is something for everyone.
How’s business going?
It’s going well actually. It keeps getting better and better as people start to trust us and as they start to see the work that is coming through here. Business has been consistently good and we’ve been selling work out of every show. As a result of us building this idea of being a conduit for Rhode Island art, we were invited to participate in the International Art Fair, which is a great honor for us and also for Rhode Island artists. Normally it’s a juried process but they heard about us through word-of-mouth and so we were able to skip over the review process.
So we’re taking a caravan full of art down to Miami to the Art Fair. People come from all over the world to look at what’s happening in contemporary art and to buy art at these fairs. Our feeling is that the work here is strong enough to hold its own in that arena and so our goal is to bring some visibility to the artists that we’ve shown in our gallery. We’ll be taking pieces from a variety of Rhode Island artists with us and all of it will get hung up in a booth in this giant fair inside a convention center from December 3rd to the 6th. I’m really proud of the artists that are producing this work that is helping us all get to this next level.
What’s next for 5Traverse?
We’re going to continue on with our mission and try to get the word out about it. Also we’re looking to continue building the local art community through a series of events where we bring artists together with people who buy art and help people see what’s happening in Providence. When people ask me, ‘what’s the best show to see in Providence right now?’ a lot of times I want to say so-and-so’s studio. There are so many artists working on so many interesting things in their studios and I want to start doing citywide tours to take interested buyers to see what different artists are working on, in addition to having shows in the gallery. I also want encourage businesses to think about decorating their offices with art by Rhode Island artists because a. it’s world-class quality art and b. they’d be supporting local artists by buying art by artists who live and work here.
For more on the Buy Providence and Buy Art campaign, go to http://bpba.providenceri.com. To learn about the various neighborhood markets in Providence, including Wickenden Street, go to www.providenceri.com/nm.