By Katrina Cheung, Communications Manager, Triple-I
As we continue to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month, Triple-I is spotlighting Filipino-American gallery owner, painter, and Covington, Louisiana-native, Marianne Angeli Rodriguez.
Rodriguez spent much of her life living abroad in West Africa, Central America, Europe, and Asia before settling in the U.S. She earned her bachelor’s in media studies and anthropology from the City University of New York at Hunter College, and a degree in fashion design from FIT. After being laid off from two different fashion industry jobs, she worked as a freelancer creating fashion and beauty sketches for magazines, in addition to taking client commissions. She eventually outgrew working in small-scale and shifted to working on larger canvases.
Rodriguez’s art has garnered attention from numerous magazines and has led to various collaborations.
Her work is on permanent display in numerous public installations, including the Sloan Kettering Cancer Centers in New York, Southern Hotel Covington, Magnolia Hotel New Orleans, Shirley Ryan AbilityLab Chicago, Nolé restaurant in New Orleans, and the New Orleans Louis Armstrong International Airport.
We had the pleasure of speaking to Rodriguez about her gallery, her work, how she remained resilient in the face of the pandemic and other setbacks, and how she protects her business from natural disasters.
Tell us about your work and your gallery. How did it all start?
Shortly, after I was laid off, a job opportunity for my husband moved us to a different city and I dedicated the following year to painting out of my dining room. I developed a website to sell my work online, and soon after I rented out a studio to work out of. After three years of working diligently and growing my client-base, I outgrew that space and decided on a new, more prominent, gallery location around the corner. At this point my husband joined me to work on the business full-time as my business partner and gallery director. We signed the lease to this new location two weeks before COVID shutdowns.
Wow, 2020 was such a tough year for small businesses so I can only imagine how daunting it was for you and your husband to open the gallery during the pandemic! Despite the unknown and challenges that the pandemic presented, it seems like the gallery is thriving.
Can you talk about some of the obstacles you’ve faced since opening the gallery and how you have been able to overcome them?
Since we took on a much larger brick and mortar space right in the beginning of the pandemic, our main challenge was the disappearance of foot traffic. We realized that our online presence and web shop was going to be our saving grace so we re-strategized and poured our efforts into marketing, re-designing our e-commerce platform, and becoming more engaged on social media. We also tapped into local partnerships and were able to offer more products and services including custom framing and high-quality canvas prints to diversify our offerings and meet the needs of various art buyers. Since everyone was quarantined and taking on home-improvement projects including decorating, 2020 turned out to be a prosperous year for us as a small business.
Given that you live in a hurricane-prone area, in what ways have you safeguarded yourself and your gallery property against extreme weather?
During hurricane season, with any imminent threats, our typical drill is to secure the outer perimeter of the business by removing objects (like our hanging gallery signage) and using sandbags at entry points to safeguard against flooding. In case of emergency, we have insurance and an evacuation plan.
Art is such an important part of our history and our communities. It tells us stories from all walks of life, including those that might not be told often in mainstream media. As an artist, what do you hope to convey to people with your art?
I’m a colorist, so first and foremost what I wish is to elicit feelings of joy, delight, and positive energy when viewers first come across my work. As a minority based in the South, it’s been a privilege to sprinkle in bits of my Filipino heritage in both the imagery and the titles/stories behind the work – it’s a way to invite others to receive new insights without necessarily speaking so directly about it, and I love the way it opens the door of deeper connections and curiosity.
There’s been a consensus in the AAPI community that many have felt cultural and societal pressures to pursue STEM-related careers.
What advice do you have for anyone that wants to follow their dreams, but feel pressure to follow a certain career path based on societal pressures or maybe even pressure from their family?
My advice for anyone wanting to go “against the grain” is to be fully prepared to and willing to take on the rollercoaster that may lie ahead. Research your industry, know your competition and stay ahead with technology and social media. Take one step at a time, and fully immerse yourself in each evolving chapter. Take note of the hard lessons, be thankful for them as they’re there to help you move closer to the best most professional version of yourself/your business. Build trust by over-delivering on customer service. Practice gratitude daily.
Were there other times in your life that you have personally had to remain resilient despite the challenges ahead? If so, can you share what those experiences were and how that has helped you as an artist and businessowner?
Years ago, when I had just gotten laid off from my job and was dipping my toes into the artworld doing local art fairs, my car was stolen and everything I had invested in for my new venture was gone. It was devastating. My family urged me to move back home and consider a career in the corporate world. I stuck it out and stayed and rebuilt from the ground up. That experience gave me the tenacity I so needed to be fully independent, committed and driven in pursuing my creative path. Later, as I grew more serious in my practice, I got rejected from the galleries I wanted so badly to land a relationship with, but I continued to work on my art, perfecting my process and investing in courses to widen my business knowledge, and ultimately opened -and now operate- a gallery of my own.
What has been the most rewarding part of being a small businessowner?
The most rewarding part of being a small business owner, specifically as an artist, is having complete autonomy over the creative vision being released out into the world. Having the ability to positively impact your community and brighten someone’s day is both empowering and humbling.