Normally, August is the least attended, and often least showcased, Stroll of the year. So, imagine my relief, surprise and joy to find a brand-new gallery showing off three artists to some decent crowds coming through. Today, I chat with Marcus Gibby and Eric Morley, the two founders of Mod A-Go-Go, about the new business and what they're bringing to downtown, thoughts on local art and a couple of other topics, along with photos from Stroll, which you can check out in this gallery here.
Marcus Gibby and Eric Morley
Gavin: Hey, guys. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Eric: I'm a recent MBA graduate from Westminster College. I studied finance for my undergraduate and have worked at American Express for over 14 years. I have an extensive background in business and a passion for helping others. I've done a lot of volunteer work with the LGBT community and love to be involved and engaged in local events and volunteer opportunities. I grew up in Sandy, Utah, and am proud to call Salt Lake City my home. I'm also the father of three children and look for every opportunity to spend more time with them. Marcus has spent most of his professional career working in retail, with a lot of that time in galleries, frame shops and consignment stores. %uFFFDHe is also a talented artist and is very creative in designing everything from paintings to sculpture and furniture to parade floats. He was born in Columbia, but was raised in Salt Lake City. Not only are we business partners, but we’re a couple. We have been together for two and a half years and are like any other couple; trying to make a living, raise kids and enjoy life.
Gavin: What got both of you interested in art, and what were some early influences on you?
Eric: Marcus is an artist. He’s always been a modernist at heart. He has always loved modernism and has a passion for the art and design of the 1950s and '60s. His early artistic influences were Picasso, Kandinski, Pollack, Klee, Motherwell and Chagall … and others, but his list was getting too long.
Gavin: Starting with you, Eric -- what made you choose Westminster and what was its program like for you?
Eric: There were a few reasons that I chose Westminster. First, they have a great reputation. The Gore School of Business is well respected, and Westminster has a more personal touch, with smaller class sizes and engaged professors. Second, the core values of the college aligned with my own. Westminster is the only liberal arts college in Utah and they have a strong focus on diversity. %uFFFDIt was important to me that I chose a college that aligned with my values and principles that are important in my life. The program at Westminster was fantastic! The professors care about the success of their students. I have nothing by admiration for the professors and their dedication to their students. I started my MBA to learn business principles that would advance my career in the corporate world. During my course work, I studied finance, economics, statistics, global business environments, strategy, marketing and ethics. What I didn’t anticipate was that it would lead me down a path of entrepreneurship. I have always been a very risk-averse person, but Westminster and the Center for Entrepreneurship gave me the tools and confidence to start a business and do it successfully.
Gavin: What drew your interests toward home décor, and what was it like learning that side of design?
Eric: Like with the art, Marcus has always been a modernist. He loves the mid-century era and has always collected furniture and art from the period. From his art to his preferred furniture styles, the clean lines, natural products and quality construction have always been appealing. Marcus introduced me to the style and I quickly fell in love with the designs. It soon became a hobby for the two of us to collect art and furniture from the mid-century period and transition our home into a style that we enjoyed and a hobby that we liked to do together. Most couples go to movies, dinner or out for drinks. We love hunting for “treasures” and learning how to find a jewel lying in a heap of old junk. It’s taken a lot of time and study, with some pretty awful purchases, to learn the difference between a quality piece and garbage, but it’s been a fun journey.
Gavin: Marcus, do you have any education in art or are you more self-taught?
Marcus: It’s been a mixture of both. I first started studying art in high school. When I excelled at my talent, I further pursued my education at Weber State and the University of Utah. Unfortunately, the economy tumbled and so did my ability to study art in college, during the day. However, I've been successful in creating more pieces, on my own, and have sold a number of pieces before Mod A-Go-Go and a lot more since our opening.
Gavin: What has it been like for you working your way through the local art scene?
Marcus: Working in the local art scene has been a great experience. Salt Lake City is very supportive of the arts and we’ve received nothing but positive feedback from artists, other galleries and art consumers. We’ve felt a strong sense of community and encouragement as we’ve opened the store and tried to create a space to launch new artists. When we tried to launch Marcus’ art career, we looked at festivals, cafes, restaurants and salons. Festivals were very seasonal in nature, and at the other locations, people were frequenting them for purposes other than art. We wanted to have a place where new artists could put their art in more of a gallery setting and have better connections with people who are art consumers or are specifically looking for home décor. We believe that, to be a reputable artist, it takes almost as much business sense as it does talent. We created a space where we could help new artists with the business part of things and have even started to send a newsletter to our artists with different tips on creating an art career. So, it’s been a lot of fun working with some very talented people and an overwhelmingly supportive community.
Gavin: When did the two of you first meet and become friends?
Marcus: We started out as friends through running and personal fitness, which has, unfortunately taken a back seat to education and a new business. It was through our mutual interests that we started dating and have stayed together since.
Gavin: What brought on the idea of starting a business together and combining what you both do?
Eric: We had been looking, for about two years, for various ways to launch Marcus’ art career. We pursued a number of different options, but they all led to dead ends. %uFFFDLast fall though, I started an Introduction to Entrepreneurship class at Westminster. The students were divided into groups and given an assignment -- and challenge -- to develop a new business or concept as our main project. Marcus and I had lightheartedly discussed the concept, but we never thought to pursue it as a reality. Since I had an assignment to complete, I pitched the idea to my student group and we worked together on developing the concept. At the beginning of the year, Marcus’ employment took a turn for the worse and we decided to aggressively try to open the business. With that decision, and motivation, I leveraged my course work and used Mod A-Go-go as a case study throughout the remainder of my courses at Westminster, receiving valuable input from both professors and students alike.
Gavin: How did you come across the location on South Temple, and what made you decide to take it?
Eric: Once we decided that we were serious about starting our own business, we began the quest to find a location. We had no idea how difficult a task that would be. We knew that we had to be in downtown Salt Lake City. The art community is strong downtown and we believed that we had a stronger consumer base in the area. Lindsay Vieta-Vest, at the time, was a new realtor for Internet Properties. We dragged each other all over the city, looking at different locations. Some were too small, others were too much of a project, many had parking challenges and there were a lot that just didn’t feel like Mod A-Go-Go. The former King’s Row Formal Wear building had just been put on the market, and Lindsay took us to see the building, just on the chance that we might consider it. They had just completed some demolition work in the building that required them to remove almost all of the ceilings, shelving, lighting and flooring. To be honest, it was a dump. Because he’s an artist, Marcus was able to see past the mess and recognize the potential in the building and the fact that it had a retro style that fit our vision for Mod%uFFFDA-Go-Go. We were very fortunate to stumble upon Steve Price, from Price Realty Group. He’s the owner of the building and was wanting to find just the right fit. His belief in our idea gave us the motivation to renovate the building and turn it into a gorgeous addition to South Temple and downtown Salt Lake City. When we were renovating the building, we always told people it was the “old King’s Row building.” Now, it’s truly, Mod A-Go-Go.
Gavin: What was it like tuning the place around for your needs, and where did the name of the business come from?
Marcus: Two days after we signed the lease, Eric left on a two-week MBA trip to South Africa. My and Eric’s mother worked night and day renovating the building. For two months, we lived and breathed nothing but construction. We were fortunate to discover the beautiful, modern tile work in our front show room under five layers of paint and paneling. Although it was hard work, discovering some of those old and original features of the building gave us motivation to work harder on the renovation to restore the building to its former state. Thanks to the efforts of many friends and family members, we had an outstanding team of volunteers who helped us get the door open. We’re often asked about the name. It’s unique. We wanted something that was memorable, catchy and denoted a sense of style and fun, with a retro throwback. We knew that “Mod” had to be in the name. One of Eric’s fellow classmates suggested “a-go-go” because it was a mid-century term that no one can forget. %uFFFDThe name had all of the elements we were looking for and, quite simply, made us smile.
Gavin: Prior to opening, how did you decide what kind of furniture to put on display?
Eric: This was one of our first challenges. We had been collecting furniture for months. We had filled up our house, the kids’ bedrooms, our garage and finally bought a storage unit. We had TONS of stuff! Our problem is that we hadn’t collected enough for a 3,000-square-foot building. We displayed as much furniture as we could. We spent days repairing, polishing, staining and steam cleaning pieces so they had the look, feel and quality we wanted for Mod A-Go-Go. Since our opening, we’ve been fortunate to sign some great consignors and have invested most of our money back into buying new pieces. Now, it’s filling up and we’re able to offer our customers a greater selection than we did on opening day.
Gavin: How did you go about choosing what artists to exhibit?
Marcus: Our primary focus was, and always will be, on new artists. We love having established artists and are fortunate that they believe in our concept enough to partner with us in creating a great art space. We try to maintain a style of art that’s consistent with the modern décor. As a result, we frequently try to sign contemporary artists with a wide range of style and talent. We do our best not to turn away artists and try to work with them to tell them about our style and what will work well in the store. We really want them to be successful; we want to be a help for them instead of a hindrance or leave them discouraged.
Gavin: You had your grand opening last month. What was that evening like, and how have things gone for you since?
Eric: Our grand opening was spectacular. Our artists invited all of their friends, Westminster distributed a press release and we had a large number of attendees from the public, as well as our own friends and family members. People came in and out all night long and we found ourselves frustrated that we could only have about 30-second conversations with everyone because there were so many well-wishers. Since our opening, we have had a continuous flow of customers who are excited about the store and our concept. Not only have we had a lot of great customers come to our store, but we’ve also been visited by other local business owners and even some of those who have similar styles to ours. Everyone has been very welcoming, wished us success and provided nothing but encouragement. As a result, we have built some strong customer ties, business relationships and gained new friends.
Gavin: Tell us a little bit about who you had on display for this month's Stroll.
Marcus: This month, we have three featured artists: Greg Frehner, who specializes in pen and ink art. We have some of his large-size prints, which include portraits of John Lennon, Marilyn Monroe and Salvador Dal; Brittani Nay is a talented artist working with wood burning. She has an affinity for geek art and horror-film themes. Some of her works include Walter White from Breaking Bad, a Tardis, the Starship Enterprise and Frankenstein; and Vita Kobylkina, who has a unique perspective on portraits. She uses acrylic on fabric for many of her paintings. Her chosen fabric patterns turn her “canvases” into the art just as much as the paintings.
Gavin: What was it like joining Gallery Stroll and working with them to showcase art?
Eric: Joining Gallery Stroll was an exciting step for us. When we contacted them, they responded very positively and complimented us on our reputation, as well as how easily artists can work with us. We’re thrilled to be a part of Gallery Stroll and join the ranks of other impressive galleries in Salt Lake City.
Gavin: How can people get involved with your gallery, either with furniture or art?
Marcus: For those interested in being involved with Mod A-Go-Go, they can submit their work online at our website, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or they’re always welcome to stop by the store and visit with Marcus, in person.
Gavin: What can we expect from you and the gallery over the rest of the year?
Eric: For the rest of 2013, you’re going to see some fresh ideas and concepts from Mod A-Go-Go. On September 21, we will have our Modern Chair Design Showdown. This is a competition with local furniture makers to inspire innovation through designing a hand-crafted chair, bench or stool. The sponsored event with have a professional jury and include prizes for the winners, as well as the experience to compete against other designers in the industry. All furniture designers are welcome to join, from novices to professionals. Details are on our website. In October, we plan to have a Halloween Gallery Stroll with themed art. We will also continue the holiday themes throughout the rest of the year, in Mod%uFFFDA-Go-Go%uFFFDstyle. We plan to incorporate some unique, and impressive, holiday displays and art shows during the Christmas season.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Marcus: Our Modern Chair competition will be a big, innovative event. We have a lot of furniture makers who have been waiting for this kind of event. We hope to continue to competition in the future, creating a tradition, a following and a showdown that will inspire local craftspeople to create new and exciting pieces.
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