Gallery Takes On New Challenge
Ta-Dah! Downtown welcomes the Downtown Art House
In the mid-2000s, Cassie Stone was a high-flying sales rep for Eli Lilly and Company. Her background as a registered nurse working with cardiac care patients served her well as she zoomed to the top of pharmaceutical and medical device sales for the multinational company. The job was great – the travel, murder. Married with three children, Cassie was always on the road, on a plane, somewhere besides home. When Eli Lilly offered a position setting up clinical trials for new drugs, she took it hoping the fierce travel schedule would lessen. It did not, and when Cassie awoke in yet another hotel in yet another city and struggled to remember where she was that day, she knew it was time for a break.
She wanted not only a break from travel, but a new career path, a chance to shine in something else, but an 18-month leave-of-absence left her wanting. “So much of what we are and how we feel about ourselves are tied up in our jobs,” Cassie told me. “Our job is our identity, and I needed a new purpose.” Figuring out that new purpose was a struggle. She created and tore up hundreds of business plans until a visiting friend hit upon an idea that Cassie loved, but others hated. “I love art and plants and have a lot of both,” Cassie says. “She told me I should open an art and garden shop. Everyone else thought that was a horrible mistake and warned I would never make anything of it.” Cassie, though, knew better.
Not afraid of hard work, effort and long hours, she studied, considered and then committed – opening a 750-square-foot space on Southfield Road called 318 Art & Garden. In the two years since the opening, the art, garden, gift and home décor shop has been more successful than she ever projected. One reason it has become a must-see shop is because Cassie leaves nothing to chance. From the layout to the smells to the music playing in the background, everything has been thought out and curated to create an experience for customers. All her items are artistor artisan-made or come from small businesses throughout Louisiana. She makes a point of not going to market for mass-produced goods and shares with customers interested in an item that if they love it, they should buy it or potentially miss out forever.
She has learned a great deal from friend and mentor James Michalopoulos, a New Orleans painter and publicist who owns a gallery in the French Quarter. Michalopoulos, an internationally known artist, is a supporter of downtowns, of creating beauty where there was blight. His input has helped guide the next chapter in Cassie’s life. That chapter started one night when Cassie met Jim Malsch, the new owner of the Andress Ford Building on Crockett Street downtown. Malsch wanted to talk to Cassie about his new retail space, 2,500 square feet on the ground floor of his soon-to-be-renovated historic building. Michalopoulos encour aged her to consider the opportunity, and the more she thought about it, the more intrigued she became. “This could be a legacy,” she told me. “The thought of being in the middle of bringing something back, of being an early adapter and risktaker is very appealing. I’ve got no fear of hard work and coming up with a strategy.”
With that, DAH – the Downtown Art House – was born. Though the look, feel and products will be vastly different than those at her soon-toexpand 318 Art & Garden, the customer experience will be the same, as will her commitment to her customers. DAH will expand its scope to become a “southernist collective” offering handmade items from artists, artisans and small businesses from around the South. Local artists will also be featured in once-per-month artist showings and events.
DAH will be heavy on events of all types, from sips and shops to gallery crawls. She plans to work with the Strand Theatre to host open houses on the nights of shows so that Strand patrons can come early, drink a glass of wine and shop. There will be live music events and food trucks.
Different, too, will be the aesthetics of the Downtown Art House store. It will be more open, modern, clean and “livably” elegant than her current shop with large abstract paintings, home décor, upscale gift items with a connection to Shreveport history, jewelry and a dried floral bar, something that is very popular right now. As a nod to the needs of downtown Shreveport, she will stock a wide selection of greeting cards, fun Southern-inspired T-shirts, and a variety of air plants and other green plants.
For the next several months, Cassie will be working with artists and artisans to source stock, assisting with build-out of DAH, and choosing décor, colors, finishes and furnishings. Again, leaving nothing to chance. DAH, the Downtown Art House, may open in November, or construction could push it to early 2021.
Either way, Cassie will be ready, and so will downtown.
Liz Swaine is the executive director of the Downtown Development