christine benjamin events and happenings

What is up at Art that Matters

What happens to a gallery that didn’t set out to become a gallery yet finds commercial success? How does “start over from scratch” sound? That’s exactly what the founders of Art (that matters) in Oyster Bay decided to do.
The trio of artist-founders sat down after marking their one year anniversary in June. The people of Oyster Bay had embraced the gallery. There was walk-in traffic. Artists from across Long Island were flocking for the chance to exhibit in the gallery. There were sales at exhibitions—enough to pay expenses.
Things seemed to be going swimmingly. Then photographer Christine Benjamin spoke up and proclaimed she wasn’t happy. Co-founders Rob Goldman and Roseann Nicotra listened. By the end of the meeting, they all agreed.
They would divert from the commercial path the gallery was taking and reconfigure the space. Ultimately, Art (that matters) was about forging an artistic community where creativity could flourish and making art took precedence over selling it.
“We never counted on the walk-in traffic, the amount of interest the gallery would generate and the number of artist who would want to show here,” Ms. Benjamin said. “Somewhere, it became more about the exhibitions and less about forging a community and being supportive of each other’s work so we would grow as artists.”
Taking stock, they decided to reverse the winning formula and only hold exhibitions when their work—and those of likeminded others—dictated a show.
“Most of the time, artists create work for an exhibition and we want to do things the exact opposite,” Ms. Benjamin said. “We only want to show when they work seems ready.”
What the trio set out to do last year was unusual to begin with. They wanted to forge a community of artists in a defined space where art was being made, chances were being risked and dialog about art, creativity, and projects-in-process were the norm. They figured if they had a space, other artists would come.
The project space’s name—Art (that matters)—refers not to creating art with a broad social reach, but the personal experience where making art is as necessary and integral as breathing.
Ms. Benjamin embraced the idea. She is working on a multi-year project photographing those ravaged by breast cancer. It appealed to Ms. Nicotra who wanted to make sure she devoted time and energy to her portrait photography.
For Mr. Goldman, having a space where random acts of creativity can bloom is more important than creating a tangible piece of art. He believes ideas give rise to artistic acts and there are some ideas and projects that can happen only when a group of people banter together.
Since moving in, he has become involved in public art with community involvement and became an artistic liaison for Oyster Bay revitalization efforts. His new path only happened because people walked into Art (that matters), and began asking questions and voicing opinions.
“I think it’s important to have a place where you go make art every day,” Mr. Goldman said. “That can mean anything, really. Whether it’s a conversation or moving furniture around or writing or painting. It’s all making art. It’s the medium that differs.”
The trio agrees there were successes along the way. They met artists who are as devoted to forging a community as they are. Lucas DeLalio and Kara Raphael are two of those artists. Founder Ms. Nicotra’s worked edged from straight portraiture into street photography, her current interest.
As the days turn colder, Art (that matters) is reconfiguring their space and gearing up for the next phase. They plan to devote more of the interior space to places where they can get messy and collaborate and fewer pristine white walls.
“It’s exciting to see what happens next,” said Ms. Benjamin.
Art (that matters) is located 55 West Main Street, Oyster Bay. Mr. Goldman is often there making art. To check in with the artist collective or to make an appointment, call (917) 769-9921 or visit www.artthatmatters.com.

© 2017 by Christine Benjamin.