Three and a half years since he opened the minimalist art gallery that bears his name, Chad Mize looks back with more than a little pride: His idea, after all, was sound.
“This is a passion project for me,” he says. “I really wanted to open up the space to have a place for me to work out of, to have my own work shown, and to have a place for community. I feel like that’s what it’s really about, it’s about community. It’s giving people the ability to showcase their work, to express themselves.”
Each month brings a new group show, based around a different theme. On the walls through mid-October is Critters, the 40th such exhibition at Mize Gallery since its debut in March 2018.
More than 140 artists answered the open call for submissions. “The concept was animal-based art, and it had to be 12×12 or under,” Mize reports. “Whoever applied gave me their top five animals, and then we assigned them an animal. We didn’t want to overlap. Although I did do two opossums by accident. And two salamanders.”
St. Pete artist Bob Ribitz, who died Aug. 28, had been scheduled to paint a camel canvas.
There are 66 pieces in Critters, from local and Florida artists, from artists in other states and even two from European countries (Austria and the Netherlands).
Although Mize Gallery has done all-local exhibitions, “the work,” Mize says, “is really what I’m drawn to. I want to have really top-notch artists. Even the artists whose work I’ve shown over and over, I feel like they’ve gotten better over the year. I’m not in their studio with them, but I think they know what to expect when they show.
“I pride myself on being all-inclusive. I have a large gamut of different types of artists, from established artists next to someone that’s just starting out. And then age brackets, sexualities, all those sort of things.”
Not only that, “I want a diverse mix. Some of these are professional artists, that’s how they make their money, and some people are hobbyists. They want to get in a show just to express themselves.”
Mize, who grew up in Bradenton, arrived in Pinellas County in 2003 after a stint in Boston. He operated a St. Pete gallery, Blue Lucy, for several years before taking some time off, returning in 2018 with Mize Gallery, 689 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N. His partner, Dan Schmidt, owns Uptown Eats next door.
One of Mize’s distinctive murals covers the east wall of the Uptown Interior. His colorful designs are all over the city, in fact – he’s a frequent participant in the SHINE Mural Festival (for this year, he’s painting his signature free flow style on a Polaris Slingshot).
Mize is also known for his Chizzy brand, a homegrown, St. Pete-focused line of apparel, gifts and other items and curiosities.
Chizzy, in fact, pays to keep the power on at Mize Gallery. His popular murals do, too. Mize’s other source of income is the cut he takes from sales of the work in the gallery theme shows. “I’m not a fine artist per se, I’m more of a commercial artist,” he says. “There’s all these things I do to generate revenue, so I’m not just painting all day long.”
Many artists, he notes, don’t have the luxury of multiple revenue streams. “That’s an issue that I find with a lot of the artists that I show – can they afford to live here? Can they afford to be an artist?”
The lack of affordable housing for artists, in a self-described City of the Arts, is a sore subject for Chad Mize (as it for many St. Pete creatives).
Nevertheless, he’s happy with his current situation (“I wouldn’t live anywhere else in Florida”) and confesses that he gets a little thrill every time someone drops off a new piece for a Mize Gallery show, as if he’s seeing his original concept – his idea for that month’s theme – take form right in front of his eyes.
“I came to realize that I’m good at branding,” Mize says. “There is an art form in even corralling these artists together, and being very organized as a person to send emails and make sure everybody’s communicating, selling art – we sold 20 pieces so far in this show. I had several people buy three at a time.
“As an artist, you always doubt yourself through the years, ‘Am I doing the right thing?’ I could be somewhere else with my own art, by not spending all my time creating this type of thing. But last year I had an epiphany: That this was my art form, and this is what I was supposed to be doing.”