Pittsburgh arts leader Casey Droege talks life after Small Mall | Arts + Entertainment | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh arts leader Casey Droege talks life after Small Mall

click to enlarge Pittsburgh arts leader Casey Droege talks life after Small Mall
CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig
Casey Droege
Casey Droege had an idea to create an arts economy in Pittsburgh. The artist, curator, and consultant started Small Mall, a storefront concept selling affordable works by artists and designers living within 100 miles of Pittsburgh. It was settled in Lawrenceville, followed by a second, scaled-down location in the front of the Casey Droege Cultural Productions space in Wilkinsburg.

Then the pandemic hit. CDCP closed its Wilkinsburg space in March 2021 after the landlord planned to raise the rent. Then in May, Droege announced that she sold Small Mall to Kerri and Paige Fetzer-Borelli.

The move marks a new chapter for Droege, who says that while closing the Wilkinsburg space was unexpected, she had always planned on eventually moving on from Small Mall.

"I think after the sort of craziness of the year, it just felt like it was the time to try to start doing that," says Droege.

Despite these challenges, her dedication to the Pittsburgh arts community has not waivered.

Droege decided on Kerri and Paige, saying the two understand the mission of Small Mall as a project of CDCP, an artist-run, woman-owned, for-profit business trying to expand economic opportunities for working artists.

Kerri and Paige are currently selling local art and hosting virtual events in Small Mall’s Lawrenceville location, and Droege says they also intend to "keep all the employees on board and keep everything moving forward and, hopefully, grow it."

"From all of our conversations, I think they want to kind of keep things going as-is for a while so they have a better understanding of what's happening in Pittsburgh in general because they're new to Pittsburgh as well," says Droege. "I'm sure they're gonna come up with some really cool ways to expand and bring in new artists and programs."

In the short time since Small Mall changed hands, Droege has stayed busy. CDCP recently launched the annual PGH Photo Fair series, which Droege says features "incredible curators and collectors speaking from all over the world." Droege also became the first artist to showcase work for a window display at BOOM Concepts’ Garfield space.

CDCP and BOOM are both part of the Small Pittsburgh Arts Coalition for Equity, or SPACE, a group of eight small visual arts organizations that banded together as a way to withstand the pandemic and address inequality in the Pittsburgh scene. The CDCP website describes SPACE members as "collectively sharing resources and ideas, advocating for each other, and fostering new collaborations."

In April, SPACE received a $100,000 grant from the Arts Equity Reimagined Fund, used to develop the coalition and the SPACE Fellowship, a soon-to-launch, paid arts leadership training program for BIPOC, LGBTQIA, and other marginalized candidates in the field.

Droege says SPACE has been a "lifesaver" for her.

"While I collaborate with tons of different organizations and businesses, I'm really out here on my own, and having this sort-of brain trust of all these great peers is really valuable, and just having a place where we can connect with each other and support each other has been just amazing after the fear of constant obstacles and changes," says Droege.

Overall, Droege says she will focus her efforts with CDCP to continue providing community programming and offering art consulting services.

"The mission will still say the same," says Droege. "So the goal is really, we want to build our economy, which means we want to pay artists, we want to get money to our fellow arts organizations, to all the different arts workers in town, and just help build the ecosystem a bit."

She currently works with The Salon, a womxn-only networking group with a studio space in the Lawrenceville-based Arsenal Motors building, to produce Art Circle, a collection of talks, tours, and other offerings exploring the many facets of the Pittsburgh art scene. "And that's, you know, sort of looking behind the scenes with the arts community and talking with different organizations and different folks," says Droege.

Droege says CDCP will also hold virtual talks in the summer and fall. She hints that they are also in the early stages of planning some pop-up events.

As for moving into a new physical space, Droege says CDCP is in no rush to put down roots, an unsurprising development given that Small Mall moved around a lot before finding a permanent home. She adds that she and her small staff are content working remotely from home for the foreseeable future.

"I think we can continue to do without having a physical space where we show and sell art," says Droege. "And, and in some ways, focusing on consulting work allows us to do it in a more streamlined way where we can focus on big projects with bigger budgets to really, hopefully, make a bigger impact."

Casey Droege Cultural Productions

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