[EDITOR'S NOTE — Each week, this feature section, “Movers and Makers,” will feature the stories of the movers, launchers, entrepreneurs and makers who contribute to the vitality of the Mahoning Valley. This section is supported by our first community partner, Farmers National Bank.]
YOUNGSTOWN — Gallery 18, will host a visiting artists event titled Art & Appetizers on Friday and Saturday. All proceeds will go to the Beatitude House.
The event will showcase artwork from roughly 10 participants of the Ursuline Sister Scholars Program as well as artwork that is permanently installed in Gallery 18.
Monica Vega, owner of Gallery 18, told Mahoning Matters she wanted to give back to the Beatitude House because she was once in a rough place, and with the help of women's services — similar to those provided at the Beatitude House — she was able to turn her life around.
“I reached out to [the Beatitude House], and they didn't know me, and I asked them would they be interested [in doing an art event] because I have the space and maybe some of their students or younger people, or women and children [could tell] their stories, communicating it through artwork,” Vega said.
Instead of buying artwork, those attending Art & Appetizers will be able to make a donation to the Beatitude House. The goal is to raise awareness to the services the Beatitude House provides and create a creative outlet for participants.
Vega, an acrylic artist with a focus in acrylic, solvent, wash, pencil and marker artwork, entered her first professional art show in 2002, at age 24, in Kamm’s Corners, a neighborhood on the West Side of Cleveland, per a friend’s referral.
“I was playing around with paint and I liked art, but it wasn't anything serious until I — kind of like I say — struck gold and I got kind of good. I was the first one to sell out of the group show in Kamm’s Corners and someone had to come and track me down and find me to pick up my money because I was shocked,” she said.
From there, Vega and her oldest son moved into an art residency in 2003 with the help of an artist friend who encouraged her to pursue art full time in New York City. After a brief stay with her friend’s sister in Brooklyn, Vega got into a gallery in Chelsea, Manhattan where her professional career really took off.
“It was a juried show and it was a pretty strong panel of older well-known artists … and they liked the installment, they liked my attitude and they liked my youth they said and they got me in. So I did a group show with them and worked with them for a very short amount of time. That's how I knew that was what I was supposed to do,” Vega said.
Vega moved back home to Youngstown and did independent work from 2003-2009 until she readjusted to the art scene of Youngstown. From 2009 to 2017 Vega did a lot of independent open studio markets until entering Youngstown Business Incubator’s Women In Entrepreneurship program in 2017. The skills Vega learned in the WE program resulted in the opening of Gallery 18.
For Vega, Gallery 18, 755 Mahoning Ave. on the second floor, is a space to showcase 20 years of work, maintain a growth mindset and provide a means of collaboration with other local artists.
“I stick to very contemporary figurative work. I do all race ancestry, [and] I try to cover everything, like, I have a painting of a Russian Aristocratic artist, I have paintings of Billie Holiday … I kind of do everything I try to stick with what's happening today,” she said. “I try to stick with figurative work because I think people like to see another person inside, ... they can relate to human commonality.”
The name Gallery 18 is in recollection of the age she was when she had her oldest son, Vega said.
“My life was changed and [it] brought me my faith in God and my stability. I'm married now with three kids, but, you know, my life changed so much ... just a shift in my life and I thought that I would dedicate that to my business,” she said.
Being a young mom, Vega had her fair share of adversities. Now, she wants to give back to women who are currently in a similar situation.
“I was a homeless 17 -year-old. I had no place to go and I actually lived in a local shelter. ... I lived in that shelter (during my pregnancy) long enough to know how to get an ultrasound and things like that,” she said. “I was a young teenage homeless mom and I had my baby and I just remembered [thinking] 'I wish somebody would have believed in me more’ and maybe I could have started my art journey then.”
Vega told Mahoning Matters she’s hoping the event provides an aspiring young artist a “ray of hope” and encourages others, specifically in the art community, to give back.
The event will take place at Gallery 18 on Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. Those interested can find Information at Gallery 18's website or can make a direct donation to the Beatitude house.