Artist and designer Matt Scott Barnes has serious sweat equity in his block of Old Louisville. The Nashville native opened his gallery and design space, Studio Post Office, in the Arden Building on Oak between First Street and Second Street in February.
Louisville Distilled caught up with Barnes to talk about branding, Studio Post Office, and why Old Louisville is –according to him– “the most interesting section of Louisville.”
Barnes was born in Nashville, and has moved around to several cities. He received his BFA in design from Western Kentucky University, before spending a year in Louisville. He moved up to Cincinnati, where he lived and worked for several years, before taking a job at a larger design firm in Philadelphia. He spent some time in Portland, Ore., at another larger design studio, before he realized that big company life wasn’t for him. “I enjoyed the city, but realized I didn’t want to work for another big agency,” says Barnes.
At almost every step of the journey Barnes, and his longtime girlfriend and business partner Kelly Scheurich, have mixed their passions, working on freelance projects or building connections in the art community wherever they go. Barnes helped galleries in Cincinnati and Covington, and the duo got their first solo commission in Philly designing the look and brand of Scratch Biscuits. Scheurich works part time with Barnes these days, but spends much of her design life as a full timer down at Via Studios.
They moved back to Louisville in 2014, and Barnes got serious about developing Studio Post Office. Barnes explained the name; “The terminology Studio Post office is, studio post going to the office, after-work work. So it’s not, like you’re mailing a package. It’s a play on words.”
Barnes began looking for a brick-and-mortar space; after living in Portland, real estate here seemed incredibly reasonable. “I kind of had this drive to push back to some earlier days in Cincinnati, I ran gallery with a couple of friends. But since I’m back in Kentucky, and it’s affordable, I’ve decided, hey, why not find a place that I can rent?”
Settling on Space
He wasn’t on the hunt long before he settled on a space in the Arden Building. The two-story Tudor was bought by New York investor Alex Parets in November 2014. Barnes has only great things to say about Parets. “My landlord is pretty rad, and he’s definitely on board, (and) into investing in his property, he’s a young guy.”
Barnes has hosted several successful arts-hows in the space, often themed around a specific medium, or pop culture. Earlier this year he hosted an art show dedicated to enamel pins. His most recent show “Joy Sticks, Tokens, and Game Overs” was dedicated to arcade games. The show features several one-of-a-kind designed arcade cabinets, as well as a variety of smaller arcade themed works. It was popular enough that he hosted not only an opening for the show, but a closing as well.
Barnes put some work into his location, putting down news floors, new drywall and new paint. Parets gave him a break on rent for a month while he worked on the space, and then after a few months invited him to use another portion of the building. “He actually recently gave us 500 more square feet of storage that we converted into an actual print area. So it’s a pretty awesome deal, working with this guy,” says Barnes.
Building and Branding Slice
Barnes talks about Parets like they are old buddies, and freely discusses the road that led to Matt Davis of food truck Lil’ Cheezers opening up a restaurant in the Arden Building.
A previous restaurant had shut down shortly after Barnes moved in. “Me and Alex sat down, and we were talking about things to do, and he came up with the idea of reaching out to a bunch of food truck operators, and seeing if they wanted a brick and mortar,” says Barnes.
Davis was game, and he moved in to the space this past summer. Barnes helped design the look and brand of the sandwich shop Slice (1161 South 2nd St.).
“We met, and I just wanted to give him some ideas, ‘hey here’s some stuff you ought to think about doing.’ I’ve helped write business plans and brand a lot of restaurants through Studio Post Office, and through other agencies I’ve worked at,” says Barnes.
The two hit it off, and Davis was interested in using Barnes for branding, design and art. But the full array of design services doesn’t come cheap. In the end, Barnes did the work in exchange for becoming an equity partner in the business. He worked on everything; from the name, to the menus, to the large ’80’s themed mural that gives Slice its distinctive look.
Unfortunately, on October 20, 2016, Slice Owner Matt Davis announced via Facebook that he was closing the restaurant. “It’s with a heavy heart I must announce that effective immediately we must close Slice down for good,” he wrote.
Committed to the Neighborhood
Barnes, however, remains committed to the block and the neighborhood. “I really just want this area to succeed, not only for my sake, but this is a really rad area, and a lot of great things can happen,” he says.
To prove his point, Barnes cites not only to the architecture, and the history of the area, but also to the mix of incomes. “There’s low rent. There’s also high rent. I mean, it’s a very high-brow/low-brow area of Louisville. They take a lot of pride in their area. You’ll see people out on the side walk sweeping, it’s really nice to see that,” says Barnes.
Barnes’ plans to continue investing in his block and include more art shows- including a planned “Stranger Things” themed show on October 28. The show will include local and national artist’s works inspired by the Netflix original show “Stranger Things.”
Barnes is also excited about the buildings back patio, which Parets is in the process of rehabbing. Barnes hopes to see other galleries and businesses join him in building up Old Louisville.
“If the community builds up, if there are more galleries, yeah, we can jump around, have an Old Louisville Gallery hop,” he says.
Stranger Things Art Show, will be on Friday, October 28 from 7 p.m.-11 p.m. at Studio Post Office 123 W Oak St, Louisville, KY 40203.