LaFate Gallery on Market Street: ‘It Takes a Village to Grow a Business’
14 Jun 2023
Expanding from the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” Eunice LaFate, owner and artist at LaFate Gallery, LLC in Wilmington, Delaware, adamantly believes, “It takes a village to grow a business.” Ms. LaFate — an award-winning self-taught folk artist influenced by the work of Grandma Moses and Bill Taylor — uses her work to tell stories that help people and celebrate lives.
Named one of the “Most Influential Delawareans of 2020,” Ms. LaFate, a Jamaican-born naturalized citizen, has lived in Wilmington for nearly 40 years. “I've chosen to live in this city, on the east side. My choice of residence has to do with my care for children, wanting to reach out and help and empower them.”
While her art gallery dates back to 1993 as a home-based sole proprietorship, it has been open at 227 North Market Street since 2015. “In 2015, my husband of 31 years passed away,” said Ms. LaFate. “He had cancer, and I was his caregiver. I contemplated moving from my home to an apartment, but I remained in my home and moved my home-based business to a storefront at 227 North Market Street, where my art would get more visibility. The series in my gallery — The Heart of Caregiving: Rebounding from Grief to Growth — is dedicated to health care, the work of the heart. When my gallery opened, my son gave a speech, and he said, ‘My mom's gallery is more than a gallery; it is a vision center.’”
“It is not your ordinary gallery, where art is just displayed on a wall,” said Ms. LaFate. “When you walk into LaFate Gallery, you see more than art; you can sense a presence of diversity.”
“The core of my work is about diversity, equity, and inclusion; the theme runs through all of my pieces,” said Ms. LaFate. “I live and breathe diversity. Coming in as an immigrant, I experienced discrimination, and I made it my mission to have people value diversity. I made it the message of my work.”
“In 1998, my piece “Melting Pot vs. Salad Bowl” brought the highest price I had seen. A print of it hangs in the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas. This happened because I sent him a handwritten note complimenting his work on diversity and inclusion. He wrote back. I got to attend the opening of the library.” The piece was also used as the cover of a Race Relations Study Circles Manual.
Ms. LaFate noted, “Currently, I am celebrating June threefold: National Caribbean-American Heritage Month, Pride, and Juneteenth.”
On June 23rd, Ms. LaFate’s work will be featured at The Chancery Market during the Caribbean Art Exhibit from 6–9 p.m., featuring live steelpan music by Trevor Stubbs. Also, in recognition of Caribbean Heritage Month, The DoubleTree Wilmington on 700 North King Street displayed her art for sale on June 9th and will again on June 30th. Her work will also be displayed for sale at Chemours, in Newark, Delaware, on June 14th, as they celebrate local small businesses for Juneteenth.
These collaborations speak to what Ms. LaFate means when she says, “It takes a village to grow a business,” but she feels that other corporations can take this lead and run with it. “If we would partner in a better way, in doing business, we could achieve more for the better good of the community, which is what I'm about.”
“Art needs more inclusion by businesses, just to change the ambiance to create an atmosphere where people can relate to the arts. In other cities, you see local art on the walls in the hallways of companies and corporations. We need more to do this in Wilmington.”
“Acquire art! Art is more than beauty; it is wealth,” said Ms. LaFate. “Corporations can help solve the value issue and increase patronage to help Delaware artists not be “starving artists.” When MBNA was downtown, they would tell their employees to go out and buy. People need to see local art featured in restaurants, public spaces, and businesses. Delaware needs to break out of the mundane mold of lighthouses and barns and embrace diversity.”
Ms. LaFate appreciates the trailblazers who have shown community partnership. “Barclays Bank and Best Egg have shown support by purchasing from LaFate Gallery. In 2015, Phillips & Cohen Associates on the Riverfront took down their artwork and put it in storage so that they could display mine, and they purchased a piece for the company’s collection.”
“I have received extraordinary support from Delaware Lt. Governor Bethany Hall-Long over the years,” said Ms. LaFate. “She has purchased six or more pieces of my art and she has frequently used my Diversity Art, "Melting Pot vs. Salad Bowl," to promote diversity.”
For Saturday, June 9th, Phillips & Cohen Associates sponsored a Cultural Awareness Art Class at LaFate Gallery for ten Wilmington children to celebrate National Caribbean-American Heritage Month. Ms. LaFate took them on a virtual tour of the islands and guided each of them in the creation of a painting.
Ms. LaFate has enthusiastically championed art as a way to better the lives of youths since converting her basement to a safe space for camaraderie and creation for her son’s friends many years ago. “Every child who spent time with us went on to go to college and find success. There’s a Film Brothers short documentary about it, called ‘Arts as Prevention.’”
Ms. LaFate — who has served as a speaker for Delaware Humanities for 22 years — also offers “Arts as Prevention,” as one of the two topics she presents. The other program in her catalog is “Folk Art & Culture.”
Charity and diversity go hand in hand for Ms. LaFate. “Every June, I sell my art and donate to a cause. My cause this year is Harry Belafonte’s organization, The Gathering for Justice. He started it in 2005 after a five-year-old black girl was handcuffed in a classroom in Florida. The organization works to empower youth and keep them out of jail. I have created a bid sheet for a select series of paintings on justice that I created around 2020 and the time of George Floyd. I’m donating a portion of the proceeds to The Gathering for Justice.
Ms. LaFate works to support the other businesses on Market Street. Just the other day, she attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Over the Border Tacos. “I was flabbergasted by the attendance and the community spirit that was there. It was just amazing. And the manager and his wife, they are great people.”
“There's tremendous growth in the area in terms of apartment complexes going up,” said Ms. LaFate. “What I want to see again is the residents in the complexes coming out and supporting events. You know, we have a first Friday monthly Art Loop. We need people to come out and support it.”
“When I step out the door of my gallery, I go down the street and purchase food, or whatever, to support every business on this block. I promote them in my videos on my Instagram. I want to see businesses become more savvy and more community focused. It's a hard time, though, for small businesses. We have to find creative ways to cope. A slogan I developed during the pandemic is ‘Don’t mope, find creative ways to cope.’”
“I need people to come to my business: it’s a learning gallery, a vision center. I don’t want to be a best kept secret.”
Original paintings and some prints may be purchased from https://www.lafategallery.com. Prints and merchandise featuring Ms. LaFate’s art may be purchased from https://fineartamerica.com/art/eunice+lafate. LaFate Gallery features a selection of the online merchandise for viewing. To learn more about bidding on Justice Art pieces to support The Gathering for Justice, visit the Gallery at 227 North Market Street or call (302) 656-6786.
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