Tucked away amongst the many storefronts on Butler in Street in Lawrenceville lives one of the newest commercial residents: Small Mall. Having opened in July, Small Mall, run by Casey Droege, is a concept store for Casey Droege Cultural Productions, CDCP for short. CDCP is an artist-run/woman-owned business dedicated to building Pittsburgh’s art economy by offering accessible, quality art experiences, as explained by Casey herself. Being an artist, CDCP has become an umbrella business to both house her own projects, but also carry out her personal mission: create a healthy arts ecosystem here in Pittsburgh. Small Mall acts to bridge a gap for artists that sit in the limbo between hanging in large institutions and small DIY spaces, one where artists can sell work and expand their practices – the kind of thing a one-time grant doesn’t fix, Casey explains. “So many artists end up leaving Pittsburgh once they reach a certain stage in their careers. We believe we can help build a system of support for artists, curators, and other arts organizations so that Pittsburgh can be a thriving arts city.” The business also offers programs like SIX x ATE and PGH Photo Fair, as well as offering consulting services for development projects.
Straddling the line between gallery and experimental retail space, Small Mall holds work from around 25 to 30 different artists and designers around the region. The store gets a complete makeover every three months, with rehangs featuring new artists, and last month was their first full rehang since open. Pieces include a range of 2D works (i.e. prints, photos, paintings), 3D works (functional ceramics, sculptures, puzzles), and jewelry and home goods. “What separates us from other maker-driven businesses is that we help visual artists who normally make artwork that might not be very marketable in creating edition-able works that are an extension of their practice; [we are] basically helping them make money while being true to their vision,” says Casey.
Casey describes the birth of her idea for Small Mall having come from a time that she and another artist, Corey Escoto, found it difficult to sell work in Pittsburgh. She explains how the lists of spaces available in the city are all great for certain things, but there is no catchall. The few commercial galleries in town may sell work and represent artists, but rarely focus on contemporary conceptual artists; DIY spaces are good for openings, but often bad for selling work; and Cultural Trust galleries are wonderful during gallery crawls, but also have no system set up for sales. “There are only so many grants you can get, so at some point you have to figure out how to build your own revenue streams,” she says. The two artists, along with two others, founded CSA PGH, a program created to encourage people in Pittsburgh to being collecting art at an affordable price, and soon after Small Mall was born, a pop-up shop in its infancy stage.
This new rehang will feature in house work from artists such as Zach Szabo, Jenna Houston, Jamie Earnest, DS Kinsel, and more, as well as Kevin Clancy doing an 0installation in the windows of the store. On November 16th, Small Mall will host an event highlighting the work of Jenna Houston, offering drinks from their neighbors Lawrenceville Distilling Co. With the holiday season coming up, they will be stepping up your gift-giving game by having a different artist come in every Saturday wrapping up your purchases with their own custom wrapping paper!
Since CDCP’s inception at the start of January 2017, they have paid out over $160k to artists in the area, and hope to continue to create revenue for the arts. However, they say they cannot do it without the community’s involvement. “We hope that Small Mall will become a go-to in the community for purchasing incredible art and design objects. This will not only help sustain our business CDCP and its mission, but support living, local artists,” Casey expresses.
Small Mall is a new home for the arts that Pittsburgh has yet to see, but will absolutely appreciate. With all of the talent in the city, it’s imperative to keep our artists here in Pittsburgh, and with the resources that CDCP offers, support from the city is the last ingredient needed to concoct the perfect arts ecosystem. So be sure to stop in to Small Mall, located at 5300 Butler Street in Upper Lawrenceville, with hours open Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 7pm, and noon to 5pm on Sundays!