Ready, set…sell

By Thomas Pardee

Columbia’s latest effort to showcase student work is set to launch this week in the form of an on-campus store, which will be open to the public and serve to earn both the college and artists some extra cash.

ShopColumbia, which is located in the first floor of the Wabash Campus Building, 623 S. Wabash Ave., is managed by the Department of Exhibition and Performance Spaces (formally [C] Spaces). It will host its grand opening on Oct. 16 from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. as part of the college’s fourth annual “Talk the Walk” curatorial tour.

On Oct. 9, just a week before the scheduled opening, store employees were busy sorting and unpacking merchandise; stocking racks, shelves and tables; and putting finishing touches on displays. Most items were vaguely in place-clothes hung loosely on hangers and small items spilled out of boxes stacked on top of even more boxes.

EPS administrative assistant Camille Morgan, who’s working on setting up the store, said there was still a lot of last-minute preparation to be done.

“Note that this is not how it’s going to look,” Morgan said. “By next week, we’ll be ready.”

Kevin Cassidy, ShopColumbia’s manager, said the store will feature some of the best commercial artwork being produced at the college. He said a curatorial committee made up of faculty members throughout the college judges student submissions for quality and uniqueness, as well as commercial value.

“We’re looking for work that’s original, well-made and smart,” Cassidy said. “We want pieces that indicate the level of accomplishment of Columbia students.”

Cassidy said if submitted work is original but not of professional quality, the committee will advise the student on ways to improve it. They will also work with students whose work is technically sound, but who need some creative inspiration.

“We want things that capture the spirit of the college,” Cassidy said. “We love surprises, and students are always coming in with things we don’t expect.”

The store features a variety of items, like music by Columbia-based artists, hand-made accessories like crocheted hats and scarves, student produced garments, costumes and even unique jewelry.

One line of earrings, by senior fashion design major Bethany Kelly, takes everyday objects like pennies, buttons, guitar picks and safety pins and turns them into one-of-a-kind fashion accessories. Cassidy said this is the kind of creativity the store is hoping to cultivate.

“It’s not taught in the jewelry-making class, but it is clever and we’re happy to have it in the store,” he said.

The store is also hoping to showcase finer art for patrons who can’t afford original pieces from more professional galleries. Though some of these works could fetch much more elsewhere, ShopColumbia is working with artists to help keep prices low enough to be attainable for the store’s clientele, which now consists mostly of students, faculty and staff.

Former Columbia photo student Andrew Bruah has prints of five of his pieces for sale in the store. He said he reduced the asking price to $400 for one of the 20 existing 16×20 prints in order to gain exposure and increase his chances of actually selling his work.

“It’s kind of a give-and-take,” said Bruah, who graduated from Columbia in May. “I’m selling my work as cheap as I can, which, thankfully, isn’t too far from what I wanted to begin with.”

Morgan said the school keeps 25 percent of the sale on each item, and the rest goes to the student. Bruah said he supports Columbia’s efforts to give emerging artists the chance to deal with the more commercial aspects of the industry.

“It’s a pretty tough business to be in anyway, and with everything happening now [in the economy], it’s only going to get harder,” Bruah said. “Columbia is giving their students and alumni another venue for us to show our stuff. That’s what it’s all about. We have to show our work to as many people as possible, and maybe we might get a bite.”

Morgan said the ShopColumbia format will also teach students to gauge how commercially viable their work is and needs to be, which could help direct their careers.

“Pitching it to us is a good way for students to learn just how marketable their art actually is and how to work within the process to get their work sold,” Morgan said.

Cassidy said the EPS department also hopes to add an online component to ShopColumbia next year that will allow students to learn more about artists and their work. He said he hopes ShopColumbia will grow to eventually become a citywide presence in the Chicago art community.

“We are going to reach out to the community at large,” Cassidy said. “We hope to establish ourselves as a destination for those interested in hand-crafted and one-of-a-kind objects and artworks.”