Back in 2004, Hue Art Gallery was a welcome addition to Monroe Street's eclectic mix of shops and restaurants. But when some of the artists who formed the co-op gallery's core membership began drifting away, the business either had to change or close its doors.
"Over time the artists couldn't really staff the gallery the way we wanted them to, which was one of the big reasons for looking into another business idea," says Hue co-founder Rachel Fox.
The new idea turned out to be Ma-Cha Teahouse + Gallery, a serious gallery that also happens to take tea seriously. Fox's partner, Anthony Verbrick, runs the Teahouse side, and Fox is the retooled gallery's director.
After just a few weeks of operation, Ma-Cha is already attracting both committed and novice tea drinkers. The proprietors have held regular tea tastings, and Fox has designed colorful tearooms with Moroccan, Victorian and Chinese themes for the old Hue's second floor.
But Fox and Verbrick won't underplay the gallery. "We still plan on having monthly exhibits, and most of the artists who were involved before will show work here," notes Fox.
Plenty of coffeehouses host small art exhibits on their walls. But Fox is convinced that Ma-Cha can differentiate itself from those more casual spaces.
"I think there is certainly the danger of that perception happening over time: that we serve tea and we just happen to have art. But the downstairs is the main gallery. We're not going to have a lot of seating there, and it will be a fairly open space, so people who come in will have a clear view of the art. At a coffeehouse there's a million tables and the art seems secondary."
Fox is in the process of scheduling shows for the rest of the year. The featured artist for August is Bethany Kalk, who will exhibit works on paper and encaustics. The show's opening is Friday, Aug. 3, from 6 to 8 p.m. Unsurprisingly, it includes a tasting of iced black teas.