Covered in bold swaths of spray paint and a large stenciled portrait of Frida Kahlo, Art Mart sits just outside the Fredericksburg historic district at 1405 Princess Anne Street. Its founders are Justin Young and Nina Angelini, a young couple bursting with excitement for their art and their community. With its small, bright storefront, Art Mart serves as a gallery, studio, market, office, and event space, but more than any of those things, Justin and Nina want it to be a place for people. As Nina said, “This is a place for our community to do things.”
As a rule, the context of where and how art is displayed is just as important as the work itself. Established artists can find appropriate contexts in formal gallery settings, but for newcomers, it’s hard to find venues that will take a chance on an unknown. Art Mart’s goal is fill that gap for artists of every medium. Nina explained, “I curate everything, so I make a very conscientious effort to display otherwise underrepresented artists.” The other main goal for the space is to encourage community engagement with art, allowing visitors to learn about it in a truly meaningful way. “We just want to foster a place where people who aren’t familiar with art can really be comfortable,” said Nina. “We just want this to be a safe place.”
Both Justin and Nina are artists in their own right and, between the two of them, have experience in a wide range of mediums. “I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember,” Justin recalled as he tried to pinpoint his earliest artistic endeavors. By the time he was a teenager, he was working as a graphic designer and software developer. After graduating from the Montgomery College School of Art & Design, he moved to D.C. to continue his work in graphic design, branding, and web development. While there, he founded the online cultural magazine Ready Set DC and worked with other artists to create pop-up galleries and fashion events.
It was at one of these pop-up parties that Justin met Nina. They both had an immediate attraction for each other and have remained inseparable ever since. Nina had long been interested in fashion and design, so finding such a compatible partner at an underground art show came as no surprise to her. During Nina’s time in D.C., she was surrounded by friends heavily involved in the street art scene. Once Nina began painting in 2011, she took to making murals herself and found it to be a natural fit for her aesthetic sensibilities.
I know that art literally has the power to change your whole way of thinking and rearrange you.
In 2012, the couple decided to move to Fredericksburg. It turns out that the house they moved into is only a few blocks away from Art Mart, but back then the storefront was just an empty brick building. Every time they would walk past, they would imagine all its potential and dream of the art projects that they could host there. Originally, they thought if they were to acquire the space, they would just use it as their own personal studio and maybe host a pop-up event every once in awhile. When they actually worked up the gumption to ask the landlord about renting it, though, they discovered that their dream was more attainable than they ever thought possible. Recalling the excitement of the process, Nina gushed, “We came into this space and realized how awesome it was and how awesome the landlord was and how willing he was to work with us and we were like, ‘Oh, okay, we could turn this into a gallery and actually have other artists benefit!’ So we just kind of went for it.” This past July, they officially opened their doors to the world and have been hosting events on a regular basis.
Eager to create a truly integrative arts hub for the Fredericksburg art community, Justin and Nina want to bring together elements that don’t always get to coexist in the same space. “Outsider art, street art, artists of color, female artists, we just wanted to have that all under one roof .” For example, last month, they hosted a solo exhibition by Gregg Deal entitled “This Is Indian Land.” A member of the Paiute Tribe of Pyramid Lake, his work focused on issues with indigenous identity and pop culture. It’s important for them to have this type of underrepresented expression here, mostly because they believe in the ability of art to transform people. Nina explained, “I know that art literally has the power to change your whole way of thinking and rearrange you.”
This month, Art Mart has a show that will attempt to rearrange people’s understanding of Día de los Muertos, the traditional Mexican holiday otherwise known as the Day of the Dead. The exhibit, entitled ”Día de los Avivados,” is a collaborative show with artists of different ethnic backgrounds including David Hernandez, Mika Zink, and Michelle Pearson. Each piece expresses the artist’s own personal interpretation of the holiday’s significance. Later in the month, the Art Mart crew will be throwing a Halloween fundraising bash at the Catalyst Media event facility on Saturday, October 31. The funds they raise will be used to finish renovation of the gallery. They’re also partnering with Fredericksburg All Ages to host an open mic series focusing on the performance of original material; the next session is scheduled for Saturday, October 10.
It’s easy to see that Nina and Justin are staying true to their goal of making art accessible to as many people as possible, turning what used to be just another garage into something vital and beautiful.
Art Mart’s “Día de los Avivados” exhibit will host an opening reception on Friday, October 2 from 6-9 PM and will be on display through November 4. For more information, visit artmartfxbg.com
Photography by Kaylah Rodriguez