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The Fabric of Art

(June 2010) posted on Mon May 24, 2010

Find out how Rusty Arena applies his passion for art to a long-running career of creating unique, screen-printed home décor.

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By Andy MacDougall

After a detour into a basement that was dark, dank, and shared with an artist who kept 16 cats, the search was on to find an inexpensive, long-term lease where the partners could build their business. “I had a friend who owned a warehouse in the first ward, a very scary locale at the time but almost affordable,” Rusty says. “It had been an auto-repair shop for the prior tenant; we would need to clean the space thoroughly to produce textiles. By leasing the entire 40,000-sq-ft facility and parceling it out to other artists, we earned a greatly reduced rent. We had inadvertently started another artist community away from the downtown. A dozen additional art studios were eventually rented. This studio was to be our home for 20 years. It was demolished three years ago. I vowed never to rent again, found a large parcel of land with an existing metal structure, and am happily not planning on moving 100-ft-long print-ing tables again!”

Rusty’s other brother Randy got involved; he engineered and built the prototypes for the step-and-repeat printing tables and designed and built an ingenious mobile curing unit that used a series of interlocking gears to time the process and yield colorfast cures to the fabrics as they were fed through. Innovation, invention, and scrounging skills are common to most screen-printing shops when they begin, but ultimately the startup financing of Arena Design came from the revenues Rusty continued to earn from paintings and commissions received to create murals, trompe l’oeil, sculptures, and painted finishes in residential and commercial projects around the country. Feeling displaced and spending long periods of time in other homes and businesses motivated Arena to direct his efforts from creating the painted finishes on walls to applying them to rolls of paper and other materials in his studio.

It soon became apparent that if the company were to succeed, Rusty would need to spend more time in the print shop and less time painting scenes halfway across the country—the occasional job like painting Ms. Leachman being the exception. He also learned that good employees make or break the business.


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