As a featured artist of the very first and most recent issue, I am extremely happy to introduce Catalina Piedrahita, co-creator of The Middle Gray. Celebrating its one year anniversary, The Middle Gray is an arts organization that continuously strives to promote artists of all kinds by using its quarterly magazine and weekly blog posts. These featured artists are not the typical ones you already hear about in the news, because face it, those artists do not need any more press. The Middle Gray aims to feature amazing work from the underdogs and lesser-knowns who are looking to expand their fan bases, and/or show their work for the very first time.
Catalina Piedrahita is a Colombian American artist who now resides in Boston, Massachusetts. Born and raised in Cali, Colombia, her art education began at a very early age learning a wide range of artistic media. Catalina received a BFA from the Miami International University of Art and Design, and later graduated from the New England School of Photography. When Catalina isn’t co-managing The Middle Gray, she works as a fine artist and as a freelance commercial photographer and videographer, among other things.
Laura Knapp: As such a positive and opportunistic organization and magazine, The Middle Gray remains as one of my favorite local creations. The Middle Gray was actually a big inspiration for the creation of “She is Sure”. What was the thinking and creative process behind bringing it to life?
Catalina Piedrahita: Thank you, Laura! I believe I first started contemplating the idea of creating an arts organization around 4 years ago. I always thought it would be great to manage or be the curator of a gallery, but I never felt completely comfortable with the status-quo of the art establishment, so I never saw myself working for an existing gallery. On the other hand, after working for several companies/organizations, I realized why I became a fine artist in the first place; I am creative, and I can’t stand doing mindless tasks for too long, especially if they don’t allow some kind of growth. Finally the idea of being an independent curator came to mind, but I really needed to come up with a model that worked for me. You know, we all need to pay bills, but how to do it in a way that’s reliable and enjoyable at the same time? This idea stayed in the back of my mind while I was still in school, and somehow one day, probably while sitting in a café and looking at the neglected and crooked art on the walls, I decided that’s how I was going to do it; a multidisciplinary art space subsidized by a food establishment. It sounded doable.
After sharing these thoughts with my partner in crime, Álvaro, we began to think about the concept behind the project, and we agreed that it would be more meaningful to us if it were dedicated to people like us: emerging young artists looking for opportunities to grow.
The idea has always been to create a physical space where all kinds of art come together in a collaborative manner, but we decided to give the concept a try first, and this is how MiddleGray Magazine was born. This online zine has been testing the waters for almost a year now, and it’s had a great response. Now it’s time for the real-deal to come to life.
LK: Why was it so important for you to create a place for artists to show their work? Did you ever imagine that it would include such a dynamic range of artwork (music, writing, visual art, etc.) when you first started?
CP: It’s important for me mainly because I can relate. As a young Hispanic female artist it’s always been a struggle to find places to showcase my work. Most of the time my work just “doesn’t fit”, which to me is a sign of lack of diversity. I believe our specific experiences (Álvaro’s and mine) can help create more options and contribute to the growth of the art scene here in Boston, and to the growth of young promising artists. It is also important for us to create a place that allows accessibility to the arts. It’s always been thought that art is a luxury, but I believe it is as important for the human experience and intellectual development as any other discipline, and everyone should have access to it.
The thought of having a multidisciplinary art space was present from a very early stage. Most of the people I interact with on a daily basis are artists working with different kinds of media, and we all agree more artistic opportunities wouldn’t hurt anyone! And even though all these artists work in different artistic disciplines, we all enjoy and consume all kinds of art forms. This means that if we all share one space to showcase our work, we’ll bring together more options for artists and art consumers, thus attracting more people to the community and making it stronger.
LK: Speaking of dynamic, can you tell us about The MiddleGray Cafe? What inspired you to include culinary arts? Also, extremely important, where can our viewers/food enthusiasts purchase your delicious food?
CP: As I mentioned before, the idea of creating an art space subsidized by a café was a reasonable possibility for me. I worked in the food industry for a while when I was in college, and food has been a big tradition in my family, if not the only one. My maternal grandmother was a very skilled cook, and to this day I haven’t tried anything that can compare to her dishes, especially because she mainly cooked authentic recipes from a very specific region of Colombia called El Cauca, and I believe that generation is gone, and no one took any note… I’ve come to understand the importance of the culinary arts, and how they can create identity and bring people together. Eating may be my favorite pleasure, and making food is as enjoyable as creating a painting, so it seems to me like a good complement that can support the rest of the organization, at least to give us the fuel to start up. Cooking is just another art form I’m very familiar with, and I also know the right person who can help us make it work in a business environment maintaining an authentic approach.
Right now the only place where people can find our food would be on our Etsy shop, or directly through me. I don’t promote this too much, because we are not licensed yet, but all we sell are cookies! Oh, but if anyone is on Etsy they can go on and favorite the shop and/or the items. This creates more visibility for us, which is the main reason why we’re on there. https://www.etsy.com/shop/themiddlegray
LK: Unfortunately, I’ve never had the chance to try food from The MiddleGray Cafe, but from the incredible photos you have posted online, I can only imagine how delicious it all must be. I think I have dreams about the pastries and sandwiches on your blog…..
Getting back on track, how has your study of photography affected your food photos for The MiddleGray Cafe?
CP: Hahaha I think we need to fix that and hook you up with some MiddleGray goodies!
Being a professional photographer has been key to the online success we’ve had so far. All the imagery that forms our identity has been created in house, and even though I didn’t explore food photography at school because I was all about people photography, I feel like you can treat food as people. Just make it look interesting and sexy! I believe I have a strong idea of what things should look like because of my artistic education and all the technical training at Nesop, but I know I still have a long way to go when it comes to food photography. I’m learning as I go and I think we’ve been refining MiddleGray’s identity more and more. It’ll click at some point. These things never stop evolving anyway.
LK: Did you originally plan for The Middle Gray to have so many components, such as the magazine, blog posts, and cafe?
CP: Yes, we needed to come up with a strategy that would let us test out our concept first on a very small budget. The café/gallery came as a concept first, but we didn’t have the resources to start a project of such scale right away. So I came up with the idea of creating a quarterly online magazine that would represent what the physical space would eventually showcase, and a blog to create weekly content and maintain a constant dialog between the artists and the public. I pitched this idea to some very close friends who decided that the project was worth giving it a chance, I guess for the love of art.
Again, I had some great minds at my disposal to make the idea work, which is very rare. I’ve been friends with our letters editor Dariel Suarez and assistant editor Alina Collazo for around 8 years, and they were kind enough to volunteer their time and expertise to manage all the literature content related to the mag. This includes the submission process and the writers’ interviews that go on the blog. They also proofread every single mag before they’re released to ensure quality. Same with our music editor Álvaro Morales, who I’ve know since… forever. He handles all the music submissions and also manages our website’s back-end, among other responsibilities. These artists were the backbone of baby-MiddleGray, and I probably wouldn’t had gone forward with the project without their support. More brilliant minds have been joining the MiddleGray family since then, and the organization only gets stronger and stronger.
LK: What is your favorite part of working on MiddleGray Magazine?
CP: To me it’s a privilege reading, seeing, listening to and choosing outstanding art first hand, and curating it is intellectually stimulating and enriching. I also feel like I’m helping create this whole collaborative art piece every time an issue is released. Each mag is a multi-sensorial performance that gets to live in the World Wide Web forever with the potential of infinite interaction.
LK: It’s incredibly impressive to see all of the hard work and intricacies that go into each issue of your magazine. How long does it typically take you and your team to create an issue?
CP: At this point it’s very hard to say how long it takes us from the moment we start collecting the material till the mag is approved for publication, since the process has become ongoing. We just have a few deadlines and every person manages their time at their will. All I care for is to have all the material in my possession one month before the launch, which has been the case so far. When we just started it took us around 6 months to set everything up (to create the submissions process and our online presence, to get on social media platforms, to submit call for entries, etc,) collect the work, edit and curate the material, design the mag, and approve it for launch.LK: What does The Middle Gray have in store for us in its future?
CP: Right now we’re getting ready to find a location for the MiddleGray Gallery/Café, which we’re very excited about. We finally have the resources to move along with the project, and we are ready to contribute to the Boston art and food scene. Once the space is open and running we’ll start planning shows, gallery openings, readings, music performances, etc, and MiddleGray Magazine will be modified to better fit the model of the gallery/café, since the digital space will be replaced by a physical one.
To see the newest issue of MiddleGray Magazine please click here: http://www.middlegraymag.com