Maritza Ruiz-Kim: Martinez, California
Edited by Paula Fava
“In one year I went from having a small area in a shared artists’ studio to having my own brick-and-mortar space and launching an artist-run gallery,” says Maritza-Ruiz Kim. “It wasn’t something I set out to do. But when presented with a set of problems and a criteria of needs for my studio practice, that’s exactly what happened.”
“I was comfortable in my well-managed Oakland studio in the back of The Compound Gallery in Fall 2015. Then life happened. I became homebound caring for my nine-year-old son. I made a space in my bedroom for a makeshift studio. I did as much as I could, but even that bit of artmaking became impossible. Eventually, my son was diagnosed with autism. After a lot of creative and legal energy, my husband and I connected him with the school resources he needed. Six months passed since I’d been to my studio.
“The first day he returned to school, I started to look for a new space closer to home. Large commercial rentals posed problems: Overhead. Huge square-footage. Business park aesthetic. Alienation from the art community. Could I create something of my own? Imitate the business plan of the studio I was leaving, which was a place that had community, access to tools, three gallery spaces, a retail shop, and more? I only had to think about it briefly to know I couldn’t. Could I build a non-profit community space instead? I considered what would benefit people most, how I could work with grants to support that work, and how I would keep my art practice while managing the non-profit. I knew it was impossible.
“These are the kinds of questions that undergird the work of artists: Where can I make my work? How can I have enough space? How can I afford the rent, the materials, the supporting equipment, and my life? How can I have time? How can I be a part of a community, or exhibit what I make? How do I make my best work? How do I not just pack it all up and quit?
“The answers to these questions are what brought me back to a place I saw on the first day I began my search: a 700-square-foot space in an old reinforced brick building in downtown Martinez, 25 miles northeast of Oakland but just six miles from my home. I didn’t have a firm long-term plan to pay for the overhead, but I had the finances to get started. I made a business plan with financial goals. I brainstormed income-generating ideas, examined the realities of my schedule, and plotted the layout of my studio. I dreamt about the possibilities. I negotiated with the landlord by sharing my intention to use the space to serve the community with art. Then I signed the three year lease.
“I paid a contractor to do the heavy work of removing the cheap stained carpet, which exposed motley concrete flooring underneath. He painted the walls a bright white. The rest of it was on me. It took a full month in the heat of summer to move my studio from Oakland. I found free furniture on Craigslist. I thought about what the studio would look like and what might happen there, and I researched similar places I liked so I could have a starting point. Since it would be public and not private, I used a branding process to consistently present my space to the world. I considered my logo, website, and printed materials alongside the arrangement of acquired furniture, signage, and window displays. I wanted to keep it authentic to me as an artist even as I wanted it to be a place for others to have a deep inquiry into art. I made a list of descriptive words to capture the heart of what I wanted. These words guided every decision. I named the space The Studio Mind.
“I set the floor plan, branded the space to the extent I could, and held a grand opening reception with a show of my recent work, which give me time to build a quarterly exhibition calendar. My hope is that the Bay Area artists whose work I exhibit will prompt an engaging discourse between the local community and contemporary art. The inaugural exhibition will open in mid-February. I set a schedule of hours for the gallery to match the busiest foot-traffic time in the downtown area, which pushes me to maintain a regular in-studio schedule (my worktables and materials are in the back). Having my studio behind the gallery also allows me to share my artwork with local business owners, art advocates, the art curious, and even just passers-by who want to know, “what is this place?” The storefront has provided the physical room to work freely with plenty of wall space to hang my work, and it’s even made new partnerships possible. I recently signed a contract to design a new art curriculum and teach it to children. I’ve had more community connections than I could have had otherwise, some of which have brought income I needed for overhead costs.
“As doors closed to working in one place, I opened a new door to my own artist-run gallery. For a long time I questioned if I was serious about being an artist. But here I am, whether there is interest in what I make or not, still doing what I do, finding ways to share it, and exhibiting other artists’ work too. It turns out that’s all the proof of seriousness I need.” — Maritza Ruiz-Kim