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Chester County Press

Taking art to the bank

10/16/2018 01:37PM ● By J. Chambless

Some of the members of The Art Trust Board of Directors.

By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

It is an early fall evening in West Chester, and a persistent rain falls on every pedestrian who walks by the Meridian Bank on 16 West Market Street, but the party inside seems to puncture the gloomy darkness, and several of them step out of the rain and into the light, curious to know what's there.

They soon join nearly a dozen others in a floating conversation of modern art with board members with The Art Trust, a non-profit organization who since they first formed in 2006 have used the front gallery of the bank as a showcase for local artists who seek audiences for their contemporary art. Many are also here to see and hear Jennifer Hartz and Sharon Bartman, two of the three artists whose work belongs to “Mixed,” The Art Trust's current exhibit.

For the next hour, Hartz and Bartman lift the veil off of their creative process and invite the audience in to see how the artist works. Hartz, a painter, printmaker and mixed media artist, describes the way she applied material and paint onto her layered canvases. Bartman, a former art director and graphic artist, described how she manipulated cell phone photographs into a narrative of colors and textures.

The back-and-forth interplay between artists and the audience is intimate, pared down to the tiny minutia of artistic creation, and over time, the board members – part of the consortium that has helped nurture and grow this gallery into one of West Chester's most well-known artistic centerpieces – stepped back and just let the moment continue to happen on its own.

The founding of The Art Trust began a dozen years ago, when Chris Annas, president of Meridian Bank, set up a branch of the bank at the 16 West Market Street location, which had been the home of the Garrubbo Bazan Gallery. Patricia Bazan-Garrubbo, the gallery's owner, then recruited a group of dedicated art enthusiasts in an effort to help grow the art community in West Chester. Together, they created The Art Trust Gallery at Meridian Bank.

Since then, its mission has blossomed into an appreciation of the contemporary aesthetic, said Liz Ruff, president of The Art Trust Board of Directors.

“We look to promote artists who are working in all kinds of mediums that have a contemporary aesthetic to their art, and not the classic Brandywine School of Art themes that you often find in this area,” she said. “We find there is more opportunity for our local artists in the niche that we love, and it's also become an opportunity to expose our patrons and the community at large to a different slant of artwork that they don't see all of the time in the area.”

Meridian Bank fully sponsors The Art Trust, funds its operating expenses for its gallery, and provides the space to them, free of charge. It's what Joseph Ennis, the bank's regional branch manager and a member of The Art Trust board of directors calls a “great partnership.”

“This allows both the bank and The Art Trust to be a part of the local art community,” Ennis said. “There are galleries that have to sell the art work in order to stay in business, but in contrast, if the gallery happens to sell some pieces during an exhibition, that's great, but we believe that it's more important to show the artists.”

“Mixed” is representative of each Art Trust gallery show, which melds the work of distinctive artists in several mediums in order to form a similar narrative. The artists come from all around the local region; Hartz is from Philadelphia; Bartman is from the Main Line and the third artist, sculptor Jim Roberts, is from Baltimore. Throughout the year, The Art Trust board peruse the local and regional art scene – at galleries and First Friday events in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey, and on group trips, as well. Every in year in June and July, the board comes together to select the artists who will be represented in The Art Trust's shows.

“We call it 'shopping for artists,'” Ruff said. “Often, these are artists who don't know each other, but we've pulled their work together into a beautiful composition, so that when you walk into the gallery, you get that heart thump, the way you do when you see a piece of art you love.”

It is fairly common in the art world for a gallery to represent an exhibiting artist, but The Art Trust does not represent artists, but just gets people to admire their work. The only monetary transactions it makes from art sales are during the time of the exhibit, which when joined by online donations are then funneled toward providing art scholarships for emerging artists.

In 2018, The Art Trust granted scholarships to six graduating West Chester Area School District high school students who are planning to continue their art studies in college.

“We chose to drive right into the educational network of area high schools, where we can bring some attention to those lesser-served students who want to pursue the fine arts,” Ruff said. “There's not a lot of opportunity for many of them to receive scholarships. It increases their visibility, and they get their name announced along with the other students who receive other kinds of scholarships. It puts them on the same pedestal, and that's what we're trying to accomplish.”

John Baker, professor emeritus in the Department of Art + Design at West Chester University, has been on The Art Trust board for several years, and said that the strength of The Art Trust's mission is seen in the diversity of talents it showcases.

“We want to continue to provide outreach to new collectors, potential collectors and current collectors,” he said. “Each one of the board members has an opportunity to put forward the names of three to five artists, so every year, we mix up the group that's invited, and the purpose is two-fold: it's affordable art that allows us to reach new populations, but at the same time, we're bringing in a new group artists, for a new clientele. Hopefully, one feeds the other.

“At the same time, we're also encouraging emerging artists to come show with us, along with established artists. It covers several silos and several umbrellas of our mission.”

Influenced,” a retrospective of the work of the artist Mitch Lyons, will be running at The Art Trust gallery through Nov. 9, and “Gifted” will run from Nov. 16 to Jan. 11, 2019. To learn more about The Art Trust, visit www.thearttrust.org. The Art Trust gallery is located at the Meridian Bank, 16 West Market Street, in West Chester.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email rgaw@chestercounty.com.

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