Before I get started, I just want to make a quick note and say I don’t know if I need a schtick as an interviewer. However, you seem to enjoy the fact that I share my initial minute understanding of a person before I get to know them.
Picture the cool friend of the oldest sister from a 90s sitcom but instead of the troublemaking comic relief she has her shit together and is softened by a slight cottage core aesthetic. That is Laura Marotta, the executive director and co-founder of Creative Hub Worcester, an organization aimed at social change, self-expression, and equitable progress. In addition, she is a working artist with the show opening on Sunday, June 6, 1-3 PM. The art will be up through the rest of the month.
Chris: So why Suzette‘s crêperie?
Laura: He’s [the owner of Suzzette’s, Jean-Luc] from France. He makes crepes and macarons that are the most authentic I’ve ever had, other than actually being in France. I will have people tell me that they don’t like macarons, and I would say, “Well like, you haven’t had these ones.” I went into their space because someone told me to try them out and I noticed that they had all these super blank white walls being a newer place.
Well, I am always trying to get small for-profit businesses to partner up with artists - that’s part of what we do. So there’s all this blank wall space; there are customers and clients coming in all the time and it’s the perfect opportunity for artists to display and maybe even sell some of their pieces, like a super genuine community-based partnership. And so we talked about doing a show a few months back and I started to create 18 unique pieces for the show that are centered around the theme of food and beverage.
Chris: What was it like making food and beverages the subject of your art?
Laura: It was a little bit challenging at first. I haven’t done a lot of it as there are certain things that are very challenging to paint, like a crepe, which is really hard to make because there were so many shades of brown and it just kept looking like a pile of dirt and it’s hard to create enough contrast for people to see what it is. Painting food was challenging but was also really fun.
Chris: So are you trying to capture your subjects in a photo-realistic style?
Laura: I don’t really paint that way. I paint more fluid, kind of abstract pieces. I will use a pen to create a little bit of an outline and then a splash of watercolor. I don’t believe in overusing them. Putting too much color on the paper can work when you’re using something like acrylics, but if you were using watercolor once you add it you can’t take it away. Using the empty space is just as important, it really helps you focus on the subject itself, which in this case is the food.
Chris: What’s it like going to the small businesses and pitching them the idea of hosting shows for local artists?
Laura: It specifically depends on their experience with art and how connected they feel to the local art scene. Some businesses are hesitant initially because they might be worried about the art shown. Perhaps their location might have particular colors or a certain theme in their space, and they’re concerned because they can’t just put anything there.
This is where I get to show them that there are multiple ways to work with artists, they can put out calls for artists with parameters, but more than anything I try to talk with them and remind them about the importance of working with local artists. Moreover, it doesn’t cost them anything, we will mat, frame, and hang everything. We can encourage more people to come in on a Sunday and purchase their food. It’s really not as big of a burden as some people think it might be.
Part of what Creative Hub wants to support with our gallery across the street when we make a call to artists is to make it free to bring your art up and if you don’t have the means to mat and frame it, we will do it for you. If your piece sells you get 100% of the proceeds. We are trying to reframe the narrative about what it means to be a working artist and have your work in a gallery finding what the potential barriers are and helping people, because it’s not cheap and easy to get your work up, and that’s a privilege to have.
You see the same barriers in local for-profit businesses as well, they want to support the local artists, hesitancy comes around because when you run a small business they don’t have the extra time to take this on. So we can tell them that we will take it on and they just need to provide their walls.
Chris: What does your dream Worcester look like?
Laura: That’s a big question. Worcester is already an amazing city with lots of artists and lots of creativity. The fact is it’s always been here, it’s just how visible has it been. That’s usually the case with a lot of burgeoning cities, the artists come in, they do their thing only to get kicked out because they can’t afford it anymore. So whatever part of the process Worcester is in right now, Worcester is up-and-coming and people are trying to make the arts visible.
What I am seeing from a totally honest perspective as an executive director and as a working artist is that the larger for-profit companies whether they’re developers or restaurants have a disconnect with what they say that they are doing for the local arts community and what they’re actually doing. Outsiders can look in and say, “isn’t it great that they’re doing a call to artists?” This organization is a huge multi-billion dollar corporation coming in and putting in a call to artists and yet it’s insanely undervalued to a point where there is no possible way that this could realistically support an artist.
It’s like you’ll find one offering $250 for an insane amount of work, no one‘s opening up the call to artists and reading the details. If you did then you would see the project realistically should cost $10,000. That’s what we see though, that’s how far the gap is between; what we say artists deserve in terms of their own skill sets and how they feel their skills are valued and their self-worth. There’s a direct connection there.
You’ll even run into situations where the artist gets the proposal but then they don’t get the check. They force the artist to buy all the materials and spend all their own money only to tell them that the check is in the mail or that they need them to fill out all these legal documents. What other job is there that does that? From an external perspective, people say Worcester supports the arts, and it does, but for all the businesses coming in, there has to be more education around what that really looks like and what the value is around that.
So dream Worcester looks more like a place where we truly support artists; this means that they have to be able to make a living on what they’re doing, genuinely. Their craft has to be viewed as just as valuable as other career fields. And treated as such, and that’s challenging because, say that we’re putting in a mural proposal and we have a supply fee and an artist fee, the business will get to say, “Well I don’t think it’s worth that, there isn’t a tangible thing to go off of.” You do it for other types of businesses, though.
If you hire an architect you pay them and they create the designs, they don’t have the design ready before you pay them. So I hope the design comes out good, because you paid them for their skill sets. I’ve seen this in other fields because we're renovating a 36,000 square-foot building. We have architects, lawyers, and other professions going into this project and so many of them will tell us what their packages are in a proposal, telling us what they get paid, and we just have to decide yes or no. That’s not what it’s like for an artist. Artists are vying for this work coming in with the lowest amounts to get the job and it’s done very differently. So this is the kind of work I do with these businesses to tell them that this is how it’s supposed to work to truly support artists.
The money is out there among smaller organizations creating small grants where they can fund you so you can fund your projects and that is so great. When you talk about for-profit businesses however they are such a huge chunk of the economic development and they are the only ones that have the capacity to support larger art initiatives. Sadly, the larger companies are the ones that I see undervaluing this idea and would rather just check a box. I want to challenge that notion and really talk with people about how we support artists and push for a perspective shift.
I hope everyone gets a chance to support Laura and this art show. It’s really great to support your friends and the people in your town, especially if they are working hard to make Worcester a better place for artists. Plus, you can grab a tasty crepe as you check out some great art, which sounds like a solid Sunday to me.