Professional artists often struggle with balancing the responsibilities of being true to their creativity and sustaining a manageable gallery space. Mary Levinsky is making a home for artists who may have the wares but not the space. Loosely based on the format of an artists’ collective, Block Party Handmade Boutique, which Levinsky opened downtown on Fourth Street in April, offers space – as small as a shelf or as large as a chunk of floorspace – and creates a community all at the same time.
“The cooperative business model of it reminds me of a block party because everyone pitches in together to make it work,” says Levinsky, who started her art career as a member of Louisville’s Female Art Collective and cultivated some deep and authentic relationships with other artists based on mutual trust and cooperation. “Growing up in my neighborhood [in eastern Pennsylvania], every summer we’d have a block party, and my friends and I would make friendship bracelets and everyone would bring food.” The boutique runs on a “micro rental space agreement,” which means that each of Block Party’s 65 artists can rent his or her own block of space, as well as put in eight hours a month helping to run the place. To Levinsky, this hands-on approach reinforces the community that she sees disappearing before her eyes. “With people socializing on the Internet and everything, this brings people together; they have to work in person as a community. My favorite part of this has been making the connections and bringing people together. It’s really exciting for me.”
As a businesswoman and art curator, Levinsky strives for balance, maintaining a limited number of vendors in each category. “I want a wide variety of products,” she says, noting that the boutique features about 10 jewelry artists and three who work in ceramics. “It’s enough to have variety, but not enough to make it competitive within the store,” she says. “It looks like a boutique, but you can tell each section is a different artist and we merchandise it like you would an art show.”
Levinsky visualizes Block Party as a place where people can not only look and shop but can also indulge their own muses. There are plans for a shared studio space for the shop’s artists, as well as workshops in such out-of-the-ordinary techniques as transferring photos onto wood and bookmaking (not the wagering kind). “I’m really excited about the workshops because I’m 27 and I feel like I’m getting to that age when I want to be active when I’m socializing – not going to bars.”
When not at the boutique, Levinsky lives in the Highlands with her spouse, Aaron, a psychology doctoral student at Spalding University, and their pug, Ethel. While at home, she keeps busy with her own unique creations: hand-painted animal-themed masks. “Last year I sold over 400 of them on Etsy,” she says proudly, adding that her handiwork has appeared in music videos and even a BBC documentary. “The masks’ success helped me build the confidence that I wanted, to help people on ways they could be successful too.”
And while Levinsky hasn’t abandoned her interest in art therapy (she holds a degree in psychology and studio art from U of L), she says it’s “something I can do when I’m older.” After all, the time to throw her own block party is now.
Block Party Handmade Boutique is located at 560 S. Fourth St., near Chestnut. The store is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information, call (502) 589-1133 or visit www.blockpartyhandmade.com.