Local Artists Featured in Cambridge Whole Foods

Nine pieces of artwork from four Cambridge artists are now in the cafe of Whole Foods Market, River Street, Cambridge. Photo by Sizhong Chen / BU News Service.

By Sizhong Chen
BU News Service

Last Saturday Whole Foods Market on River Street not only welcomed its regular customers but also four new local artists to the walls. Thirty people came for the reception of “Satellite Spaces,” a project run by the Cambridge Art Association (CAA).

“Whole Foods is a place where you go … to find groceries or maybe getting lunch, and then there’s work by somebody who lives in your community,” said Erin Becker, the Norma Jean Calderwood Director at the CAA.

The CAA has been placing artwork in public areas such as markets and coffee shops throughout Cambridge for three years. The goal of the project is to raise the visibility of local artists. Whole Foods is their first national-level partner.

Becker described “Satellite Spaces” as a constant flow of work without a beginning or end.

“There’s no establishment of a timeline,” Becker said. “They are orbiting but they are not the main space.”

Becker picked nine pieces from 50 submissions for the first round of exhibits after the idea fermented last summer. Matthew Keller, head of Whole Foods community outreach in Cambridge and Somerville, spoke to Becker about his interest in putting art in the grocery store to while he was at one of the gallery receptions.

Becker said public spaces in Boston haven’t yet become artistic enough and that filling public spaces with work by well-known artists doesn’t help the community grow.

“There’s, for a long time, been this whole thing that Boston is not as good as New York or L.A. and that’s not true,” Becker said.

Whole Foods had previously supported the non-profit group through sponsorship but wanted to do more for local artists. Keller said being connected with the local community is one of the company’s commitments.

“We thought the art would be really nice in the exchange with culture and to be part of the community,” Keller said.

The art will rotate every three months, and all the art pieces currently on the wall will be substituted by a new set of work this February.

Keller said one artist, José Estrela, was chosen because of his art’s abstract, rotating, symmetrical patterns, as well as the inquiries his piece attracted.

When he received the email from Becker requesting artwork submissions, Estrela saw a new venue to promote his art. Though only 30 people attended the reception, Estrela still regarded it as a great step toward success.

“It doesn’t cost you any money,” Estrela said. “You can just put your work out there and see what happens.”

Estrela moved to Boston to open his own graphic design company in 1991. After graduating from art school at the University of Iowa, he wasn’t able to start his career as an artist because he needed to support his pregnant wife. Twenty years later, he will finally pursue his unfinished dream.

As a member of CAA, Estrela sees young artists in the industry struggling because they are not mature enough to organize an exhibit, market themselves or participate in the business side.

“If you are a singer, you cannot just sing in a bathroom,” Estrela said. “The point is that you want to sing for somebody.”

Jim Kociuba, Jose Estrela, Laura Ewing at the reception of the exhibit at Whole Foods, River Street, Cambridge. Jan. 20. Photo courtesy of Matthew Keller.

Estrela said he fretted about making a living out of art creation in his early age. Time has passed and the atmosphere hasn’t changed much, he said.

Becker and Keller are seeking a parity in the partnership where artists can get a large amount of traffic and evoke more engagement by using their art to replace the original promotion posters.

The artwork was successful in Darwin’s Ltd. on Cambridge Street, where the CAA sold a few of the pieces previously on the walls.

“Most of our sales happen when we take the works down,” Becker said. “The customers are like, ‘Oh that painting I like isn’t there anymore,’ and then we get a call.”

At the end of the day, local artists who are able to put their work in these spaces get feedback, sales or at least a Whole Foods gift card.

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