Three years ago when Alvin Colon first went into the old industrial building on Garvey and Paris Streets – in the often forgotten Triangle neighborhood off the Parkway – he saw little more than a dusty, wide-open space filled with the rubble of ancient machinery.
From that rubble, though, a dream has emerged for Colon and building owner William Gear, as one of Everett’s only art galleries has popped up in the space – growing in popularity each month as it features unique art of all types and fun events artistic-themed events as well.
He calls it, simply, the Paris Street Gallery.
“I want this to be the art Mecca of Everett,” he said. “When we do events here, we usually get about 200-plus people. Most of them are not from Everett, but they’re seeing what’s over here now. Most of them are coming from Boston and Somerville, but we want them to know what we’ve got going here and the energy that’s growing here.”
Colon got to Everett by sheer coincidence – seeking only one thing, a large empty space.
For a number of years, he had a loft/gallery in Charlestown. Though working by day as a horticulturist (which he continues to do), after work he concentrated on his art and on holding events in his gallery. However, about three years ago, Colon was contracted to do a large mural for the Boston Police Academy. He couldn’t fit it in his workspace, so he began to look for large spaces in Everett.
He soon met Gear, who was all too willing to enlist the young artist to run a hybrid type of gallery and artist/music work space. Things weren’t going well for Colon in Charlestown either, so the convergence of the two men’s paths was perfect timing.
“He opened up the door and we walked in and I didn’t know what to think,” he said. “I didn’t know whether he was renting to me, selling to me or wanted to partner with me, so I was a little intimidated by it all.”
Eventually, Gear and Colon would work out a situation where Colon is the gallery director and Gear runs the eight artist work spaces that accompany the gallery.
Nowadays, the gallery is somewhat of a known quantity in the city – having recently hosted a City meeting concerning the Triangle neighborhood. Though Paris Street Gallery is probably still a little under the radar, more people around City Hall now know what Colon is trying to do than when he first started pushing the idea.
Most people, at first, were confused when he was inquiring about permits for an art gallery.
“The first day I went to City Hall to get my certificates, everyone looked me like, An art gallery?’” he said. “It was a surprised look each time, but in a positive way. I’ve been trying my hardest to keep everything just right and to have good relationships with the City. I try to have the right kind of entertainment here. Sometimes that means creatively telling people ‘no’ over the telephone when they want to have an event I’m not sure about.”
While any number of events could be happening at the Gallery, the highlight is the monthly artist showcase. On January 17, from 7-10 p.m., Colon will host The Artist Showcase Pt. 3. The showcases is what Colon describes as a gathering of featured artists who do music or visual arts.
The gallery is also open to the public every Thursday and on weekends.
While he is primarily a graffiti artist, Colon said he quickly saw the need to branch out – and now has everything on his walls from Chinese silk thread artwork to prints from noted comic book artist Robert Stull.
“When I first started, I wanted to support graffiti artists because I am a graffiti artist,” he said. “But I started to see that wasn’t the crowd that was going to bring people in for a gallery show consistently. I’m still new to running a gallery, but I saw that I needed to bring in a lot of different kinds of things and I’ve really tried to do that.”
That said, Colon’s heart is in graffiti art.
He said he grew up in Mission Hill, attending the Martin Luther King Middle School and meeting other friends who also were interested in graffiti art. At one point, their art teacher held a contest with chalk, and they did their best graffiti-style work on the chalk boards. In the process of making those drawings, the young men’s “tags” were matched to graffiti vandalism around the school.
“We were caught, but we didn’t get in trouble,” he said. “It was a key moment for me. We had to clean up the graffiti and she told us to do murals using our graffiti with positive words and positive messages. We did panels of MLK for the school and before you knew it, we were stars of the school and started getting attention. We didn’t have to hide anymore and vandalize anything and that’s what she was trying to teach us.”
That led to the launch of the non-profit mural crew Young Graffiti Masters by that teacher and Colon and his friends. They became quite acclaimed, once present a painting to Hillary Clinton, and Colon went on to attend Mass School of Art.
Since that time, he has been pursuing his dream and, over the last few years, trying to make it all happen in an out-of-the-way gem of a place in Everett.
“Eventually, I would like to expand the space and make it even bigger and have this whole place devoted to artists,” he said. “Now, though, we just need more people to know about us.”