There’s no neighborhood Renée DeCarlo would rather operate The Drawing Room, her art studio and gallery, than the Mission.
“This little spot right here, I can’t explain it,” DeCarlo said of her business, The Drawing Room, located at at 3260-62 23rd St. “Every day, some serendipitous thing happens that reinforces this struggle and this fight to stay here.”
Being nestled onto a side street limits foot traffic, but people often come in to The Drawing Room with intention and interest. It’s them, she said, that makes the spot “perfect” — and she plans to renew her lease in October for another three years.
It’s a business driven by the unexpected, she said: the passersby whose eyes light up; the strangers at random places, such as the Post Office, who express gratitude for the gallery; the interesting characters who drop by, such as a man who had just left the gallery after talking to her at length about LSD and The Grateful Dead.
“I want the life of the neighborhood to breathe life into this space,” she said.
The two-room Drawing Room comprises her studio in one room and a rotating gallery in the next. The latter features a different Bay Area artist each month, often from an underrepresented group and always an “amazing master of their craft,” DeCarlo said.
“The Drawing Room represents a space where art and life collide, and they breathe together, DeCarlo said. “And the people who are engaging in that moment in time, who come in here, are a part of it.”
Running the space is a seven-day-a-week enterprise sustained through multiple revenue streams. DeCarlo makes money off of galleries, runs an internship program where she teaches high school students, has investors and sells and markets her own artwork.
Drawn to the arts in high school, DeCarlo pursued them in college, zeroed in on ceramic sculpture in graduate school and then decided against ceramics, uncertain if it was sustainable.
She transitioned to drawing and now has a focus on movement. She’ll let movements guide her pen, often sitting on a bus to commute from her Richmond District home and letting the movement of the vehicle guide her pen, creating extremely abstract drawings. Her tools of choice are Precise pens and paper; she’ll also use recycled and discarded materials, frequenting recycling centers and adding discarded textile dyes into her self-made inks.
DeCarlo opened the gallery in October, 2018, at a time when she needed to quickly become self-sufficient and support her two children, and the only way she could do that was to take what money she had and figure out a way to get real-life exposure, fast.
She took a three-year lease at the location of The Drawing Room, which appeared to be an office space, and hired a contractor to build it out. It’s a difficult business to sustain, one where community is crucial.
In March, she shattered her tibia in a biking collision. Around 35 people volunteered to run the space for her in the six weeks she was out, she said.
“I didn’t even ask them. They just did it,” DeCarlo said. “And that’s huge to me, because that means that they want to make sure this doesn’t disintegrate.”