PRE-PANDEMIC ART GALLERY CLOSURE: INTERVIEW WITH ERICA HAUSER OF CATALYST GALLERY
October 27, 2020
Back before the time of COVID, there was unease on Beacon’s Main Street, as a turnover of retail establishments was happening, and the drumbeat against landlords was beginning at City Council, spearheaded by Councilperson Terry Nelson, who represents Ward 1. Because business is personal, reasons for businesses closing can be numerous and not always obvious (see past article about the cupcake shop Get Frosted and Underground Beacon - who was saved, but now recently closed due to COVID).
Catalyst Gallery, formerly at 137 Main Street, run by husband and wife team Erica Hauser and Jon Reichert, was a gallery based on a pop-up model. An artist could rent the space for the month or longer, and host a show. Catalyst was one of the first locations for the For Goodness Bake fundraisers, and Catalyst’s small-works sales.
When Catalyst announced their closure in February 2020, A Little Beacon Blog reached out for an interview, got it, and then the pandemic hit. Our publishing cycle got loopy, thereby delaying this piece. With the opening of 2 new businesses where Catalyst was (the smoothie store Blend just opened in the storefront next door, and a pottery studio has just opened where Catalyst was), we are running this article.
Erica was often the face of the gallery, and is a voracious artist herself, when not helping stack wood for her family’s wood cutting business. In February 2020, just before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and everything shut down, Catalyst announced they were closing. At first there was sadness, which possibly turned to relief after the unexpected shutdown happened.
As a background to this location, the Catalyst Gallery was in a block of buildings that had been owned by one family in Beacon - the Piccone’s - who sold it to a new family of Joe Donovan of Hudson Todd LLC.
A Little Beacon Blog reached out to Erica to gain some insight into the “Why” behind their decision. Her interview is below.
ALBB: How was your landlord? Did you get pushed out with high rent?
“Our landlord has been good to us and I want to convey that. The owners before that were On The Square. They were good too because they kept our rent affordable, I can't speak to how they were for any other tenants. To be completely at the mercy of owners, I mean we could have been gone in two years. But it worked out and we were able to really establish something. For a while.
“We were lucky in that our rent increased very gradually over the 7 years, even after a change in building ownership. If it had gone up drastically, we would not have been able to sustain it. We could have managed 1 more year at the slight rent increase for 2020. It was still below ‘market value’ as far as current comparison with other spaces, because our landlord valued us as a tenant, but it would rise again in 2021. We felt that we would be unable to meet our expenses. It would be challenging to support artists and do what we had been doing for the community, for our own shows and for special events (such as local fundraisers and benefits we hosted) if we continued in the same way.
ALBB: Did you consider a business pivot in order to stay in your location?
”I considered changing the model in order to generate the funds, but this seemed to go against the spirit and mission I had started with. While missions can change, I felt that in this case the original idea - providing artists affordable opportunities for exhibitions and creative events in a great, well-maintained location - had run its course. These words were still accurate except ‘affordable’. Over the years Beacon got busier on weekends and the space felt more valuable, as artists could potentially sell more work to more people, but how much more could we pay without asking, who is supporting who?
“Beacon and its visitors did support us, and we were able to make a strong impression in the art community - that a gallery could sustain itself over time, and that artists could create their own opportunities in a more direct way. It’s still a true idea I will keep in my mind and heart for the future, but I began to feel challenged by the efforts and energy required, and distracted from the potential for new projects either here or elsewhere. So we weren’t forced by the rent or the planned renovation that would reduce our space (which they gave ample notice about and had agreed to postpone). I was able to make the difficult decision based on all factors combined.”
ALBB: Where can we imagine you next?
”As far as what I plan to do with the time I am longer spending the gallery, after resting for awhile…
I am a painter and I do some sculpture and mixed media. I lived in Beacon 2007-2013 and in Newburgh from 2014-present. I used Catalyst to show and sell my own work, to curate group shows, to meet collectors or curators in a space that wasn’t my cluttered studio, and to connect with artists and friends. I will miss having the gallery as my home base in Beacon, but I am still involved in the community and have already been offered several options to curate shows and exhibit in different spaces in the Hudson Valley. So that’s exciting to think about.
“I’ve done some local public art installations - on view are ‘Chromatic Substation No 1’ at Beekman and High St in Beacon, a collaboration with Jon - and ‘Colorgarden’ on Carpenter Ave in Newburgh - and would like to do more, including murals. I have been working with a design studio that produces my prints for West Elm, and am doing an artist pop-up with Madewell; I am focusing on new ways to support my work and reach a wider audience. I will be speaking to a college class about my use of color, and perhaps teaching art to teens. Some people know that I stack firewood as a seasonal job, as that slows down by winter’s end I will be able to allocate more time to painting and finding opportunities to keep making, connecting, living a creative life.”
See pictures of what did happen in Catalyst’s life here.
At West Elm, you can buy Erica’s wall art, follow her on Instagram, and support her in various ways.
The easiest way is to visit her website for latest works!
These are also on view in 'Indian Summer' at La Plage, opening today, with a reception Saturday 5-8pm. I will not be present, as Sag Harbor is just a little too far from Newburgh for an evening's jaunt, but I'm sure it is lovely out there. These are now framed in maple wood, painted to complement the pieces. To inquire, contact email@example.com.