Showcasing local art since 2012, the former Zeitgeist Gallery has been reinvented as Gallery Z, under new ownership by artist Patty DiStefano. The updated venue includes a cozy café and is as much a community space as an art gallery, says DiStefano. Presenting exhibits and events year round from great art to great fun, the downtown Lowell cooperative is an ideal place for emerging artists to spotlight their talent.
Where do you live and how long have you lived in the area?
I’ve lived in Westford for 32 years but I’m originally from the North Shore, Salem and Marblehead, born and raised in Revere.
Why did you open an art gallery?
I took over the Zeitgeist Gallery in November 2015 in an effort to save it from extinction. The original owners felt they had taken it as far as they could. I recognized the uniqueness of the space, being a double-sided storefront with a prominent location right in historic Lowell’s downtown district, and thought it would provide an excellent space to showcase local art.
Tell us about Gallery Z. What sort of work do you represent?
Gallery Z is a combination artists coop, exhibit gallery, and now coffeehouse-style cafe’. We have taken an out-of-the-box business model approach and wish to represent both visual and performing artists. This comes from my background working with Jo-Ann Castano who started the Art Colloquium, a visual and performing arts gallery, in Salem, Mass. back in 1975. I am giving this gallery that 1960s style coffeehouse flavor by opening up a dining room area with low lighting, art on the walls and a quiet atmosphere where people can come and have an artisan, or, rather, artist created sandwich /coffee / tea / cake and sit and listen to musicians, poets, story tellers and playwrights perform, and maybe, just maybe bring back the art of conversation.
How many pieces should an artist have before looking at gallery representation?
Anyone can submit a proposal to our planning committee. If they are looking for a solo exhibit they should have a significant body of work as our gallery is quit large — at least 12 to 14 pieces. In addition, we have the smaller gallery, which can hold 8 to 12 pieces. We do have a call out for artists and group shows, as well as solo exhibits. Generally they run for a month and we encourage the artist to give a discussion at least one evening during the shows exhibit.
How has your own experience as an artist shaped your approach in running a gallery?
As an artist, and, I may add, as a mother of two artists, I really think I know a thing or two about the condition. And I know that in order for an artist to be creative, they need to be appreciated. Art does not exist in a vacuum. So the need for an artist’s work to be seen is essential. Having said that, we also need to make a living — preferably through our art — so we need the community’s support. When you come to our gallery and make a purchase, you know you are helping to support local artists.
What kind of impact would you like to have on the downtown neighborhood?
My goal is to create this relationship between the artist and the community, where we learn and appreciate the role art plays in our world and how very important it is to support artists because without them our world really would be, meh! We intend to represent as many art forms as there are available to us, and we are planning workshops and educational discussions, paint nights, etc. We wish to reach out to the people of Lowell and invite them to share in this rich and diverse assemblage of artists living and working right here in their very own community.
Do you think the gallery scene has changed in the last decade, and do you think it will change substantially in the future?
I am not an economist or a business professional but I became interested in the Lowell art scene because it is the only cultural center between here and Boston. In other words, without the artist’s community we would be a cultural desert this side of 128 and 495. There is nothing culturally stimulating going on, so artists have really provided that essential cultural experience for me, and, I might add, even sparked a revival in the surrounding communities as well. In big cities the art gallery tends to cater to collectors and upper classes. The average person tends to shy away from them, but in the past few years help from local governments and endowment funding available to help artists, has in turn given artists the opportunity to sell work to average folks. With the invention of digital art and reproduction we can now afford to buy and display art in our homes. As long as we make a conscious effort to support local artists, galleries like this one will become the norm.
What top three tips would you give to young artists who want to make a living through their art?
I would say to any young artist just starting out, what I said to my kids: If you want to be an artist you need to work hard, don’t get distracted, and be open to constructive criticism. Strive to create what you feel; your art should be a personal reflection of your inner self.
Greater Lowell is fortunate to have many talented artists in the area. Who would you name as a current artist to watch?
Wow! There are so many great artists that I would be criticized heavily if I pointed out just a few. I have my favorites like anyone else and obviously I am partial to the artists I have represented in my gallery, as well as all our coop members’ work.
Do you have a “dream artist” who you would someday like to represent?
Oh yes. A dream list would include artist Judy Chicago and her Dinner Party installation. But I would love to explore more of the artists here and give them all a chance to be a part of this gallery.
Why should people buy original art instead of buying a print?
As long as you buy a print from the artist and not from Wal-Mart. I really think artists should sell both. But I do love original art. It holds its value, obviously, and will increase over the years. Original art becomes an heirloom that can be passed down to generations, and just appreciated for the love that the artist puts into it.
What’s the best reason to visit a local gallery, even if you don’t buy anything?
Human beings love to create. While you are living you should take the time to see what we are up to, go to galleries and see the art. Looking is free. Appreciate what we do and we will keep doing it. Support the local artists
Gallery Z, at 167 Market St., is open Wed-Sun from 11am to 5pm. Following the grand opening May 14, look for later hours of operation on Friday and Saturday night. For more info call 978-692-5040, and follow them on facebook.com/galleryzartistcoop