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Going upscale on Georgia Avenue

Gallery owner hopes to create a new art scene in NW

(Published September 23, 2002)

By AJEENAH AMIR

Staff Writer

Michael Spears has realized a vision he’s had for the past 20 years.

An artist for more than 30 years, Spears has just opened his own art gallery on upper Georgia Avenue and said he is excited at the possibility of the developing an art scene in Upper Northwest Washington.

"We’re close to Silver Spring, where there are a lot of galleries coming with Montgomery County’s ongoing renovation there," Spears said.

Located in the commercial heart of Shepherd Park, at 7610 Georgia Ave. NW, The James Gallery adds a new dimension to an area that many Ward 4 residents feel already accommodates too many fast-food restaurants and liquor stores.

Ward 4 Councilman Adrian Fenty, who attended a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new gallery, lauded the venture.

"It was a fantastic event – to have a first-rate art gallery in this neighborhood," Fenty said. "We have been eager for this kind of business and are glad that the market has opened for it."

Spears said he began showcasing his art with the help of family and friends at private homes in the District and Maryland. As director and creator of MaryMichelle Exquisite Fine Art Exhibition and Reception home shows in the Washington metropolitan area since 1999, Spears gained an impressive following. As time passed and with more shows, Spears realized that the demand was increasing for him to open up a gallery.

"At first, we believed that black people wouldn’t or didn’t, patronize the arts," said Spears, "yet we soon found out that they would, and they did, when we began our home exhibits."

The James Gallery will showcase Spears’ works, as well as the works of Michael Billups, another area artist. Spears credits Billups, a colleague as well as a member of the gallery’s board of directors, with the knowledge of the nuances of the arts business.

"[Billups] knows the unglamorous side that I was unfamiliar with," Spears said. "He has been here to hold my hand throughout this process."

One of those nuances has been the identification of and the outreach toward their market of black, middle-class buyers – mostly women between the ages of 39 and 60. Yet, this market doesn’t preclude non-black buyers and white patrons, Spears added.

"I am a black man, so I feel I know this market best," Spears said. "But, art is art, and we welcome patrons – and artists – regardless of race."

Both Spears and Billups specialize in the French process of giclee’, spraying ink on high-quality art paper so that the color and detail are emphasized. They offer limited editions and Spears sells his originals at a price range between $10,000 and $20,000. Reproductions range from $400 to $700.

The new gallery will feature emerging and established artists with original works, sculpture, experimental works and limited edition pieces. Patrons may host private shows and schedule tours, as well as family reunions and church functions.

Spears has been painting professionally since he was 19. After high school, he attended the Washington Technical Institute and the Corcoran School of Art. He terms his style as "modern impressionism." His works infused with color and shapes, Spears said he feels his art reflects his love for black people and nature’s beauty.

Spears’ previous artistic role as writer, producer and director of the play, The Cotton Club Review, allowed him to showcase his paintings. He said he was surprised when people became interested in the artwork.

He credits the elegance of his home exhibitions – where where he had them catered, arranged for personalized invitations and provided informative sessions in art education – with sparking this interest. In the beginning, he said, he also included jazz performances.

A self-proclaimed family man, Spears seemed to have his family and community in mind throughout all stages of the planning and implementation of the gallery. His collection incorporates the names of both his mother and wife (Mary) and his daughter, Michelle. The James Gallery is named after his father.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator