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This month's feature......

The Artsmiths of Pittsburgh
Kate McGrady, Managing Owner & Founder

Kate McGrady, founder of the newly opened Artsmiths of Pittsburgh, has tapped into the rich mine of creativity stirring beneath the surface of Pittsburgh’s more widely known arts culture. McGrady, a jewelry maker and paper artist, operated Koolkat Designs in Pittsburgh’s Mt. Lebanon business district for nine years, selling her own work along with that of an increasing number of other artists. At first, she agreed to sell for a few friends but soon the lines of connection began to spiral, drawing more and more local craft workers and artists looking for a place to sell their wares. “I began to see,” she says, “that there was a great need for a better representation of local artists in a retail setting.” She found that there are numerous people engaged in some sort of creative making who are looking for a way to engage others in their work. Koolkat Designs expanded to meet that need, but McGrady dreamed of a larger facility that would enable an expansion not only of the number of artists and their works, but that would engage the community through a variety of endeavors.

A Mt. Lebanon native and long-time resident, McGrady worked in the corporate world as the treasurer of a manufacturing company after earning her degree in accounting. She took a hiatus to start her family, and when her youngest child started school, she began to question going back to corporate finance. “I make things,” she says. “I have always been creative, enjoying knitting, sewing, and paper arts in addition to jewelry making.” McGrady took a risk and decided to open her own studio and shop, featuring her signature Koolkat line of jewelry, along with various media works of twenty other artists. With McGrady’s expert business sense, the shop had a successful tenure in Uptown Mt. Lebanon.

About a year ago, McGrady says Koolkat was bursting at the seams. “We had too much product and not enough space,” she explains. “I was looking for a solution.” Serendipitously, she met three local businessmen and brothers - Doug, Chuck, and Bob Satterfield – who own the well-established local hardware store, which had changed location several years ago. Doug is also a

 local potter. McGrady talked with them about her business and her aspirations. The Satterfield are active supporters of the local business scene and immediately offered their help. The old hardware storefront, located on the business area periphery with ample parking space, sat vacant. The Satterfields proposed a collaboration. McGrady was ecstatic.

Along with her Creative Director, Kate Wagle Hitmar, and new partners, McGrady took the time to evaluate what she had created with Koolkat and where she wanted to take it. She explains, “I came to see that we had expanded beyond just selling our art. Our group of artists had grown to nearly 300 individuals and our clientele looked to us to provide a reliable source for local, hand-crafted products. We realized that we were actually changing our customers, making them more aware of the value of creativity and buying local. We had become much bigger than my Koolkat origins.” To address these changes, McGrady and Wagle Hitmar pondered over an appropriate new name for the business. McGrady says, “After carefully analyzing what goes on here, we felt that ‘Artsmiths’ worked. It addresses our wide range of artists and it speaks to Pittsburgh’s history – its earliest craft industries, including metal smithing in its mills. And, it’s an unusual word, so it stands out.”

This past year, the Satterfield brothers oversaw the completion of the exterior renovation of the new space on McFarland Road. The interior space was planned in phases. The shop and café were completed in time for the August 24 opening. In the upcoming months, the lower level will be completed to include an exhibit gallery and additional shop showroom for larger works, as well as teaching spaces. The building will also house Doug Satterfield’s private pottery studio. The new space serves as a hub for creativity in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. The café brings in customers and provides a pleasant setting that inspires the appreciation of the arts. In keeping with the principle of supporting local businesses, McGrady contracted with a local baker – Enrico Biscotti – and a local coffee roaster – La Prima – to be the café’s main suppliers. “We are a community asset, expanding the community’s collective realization that buying local is something one should do,” says McGrady.

The opening of The Artsmiths of Pittsburgh has created new awareness and increasing demand from local artists for a way to market their works. To address this need, The Artsmiths has established a juried process to vet potential artist partners. McGrady says, “We are always looking for new artists, but there are many people out there, with a wide range of skill, looking to sell things.” Applications are now taken online in a multi-step process to ensure quality and variety in the works.

In looking forward, McGrady imagines a lively center, with lectures, musical performances, and exhibits. She hopes to establish a teaching program. Unlike the larger non-profit art centers in the city that are supported through grants and donations, The Artsmiths is a for-profit operation. McGrady is confident that her business model can sustain the operations. “I run pretty lean,” she says. For now, she feels very lucky to have collaborated with the Satterfield brothers. She marvels, “It’s a gorgeous, beautiful space.”

Visit The Artsmiths of Pittsburgh in person, at 1635 McFarland Road, seven days a week. Stop by Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. or on Sundays between noon and 5 p.m.

View the variety of artists and their works at www.artsmithspgh.com/portfolio-artists/.

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