On a beautiful sunny afternoon, Gene Pellegrene walks jauntily along St. Ben’s school neighborhood from one lamp post to another. From his bike messenger bag, he pulls either a pink or baby blue flyer – shiny, on really good paper – and, with gestures that suggest so much practice it’s second nature now, he expertly tapes it to the post at Byron and Bell. The lower edge of the flyer flutters with phone tags.
Pellegrene is actually a CEO. His company, Artist Painters, does exactly what the flyer promises: custom paint jobs, faux finishing, deck weatherproofing and all kinds of exterior and interior work. But his workers aren’t just any joes off the street.
“The idea is to take relevant artists and give them a means to support themselves,” he says. “We treat them as individual contractors but on, say, a five day job, they can earn at least $1,000.”
What’s a relevant artist?
“It’s someone who’s teaching art, doing stuff for the community, showing, doing installation work,” says Pellegrene, who takes the business seriously enough to make a living from it himself. He did 30 jobs last summer and has a steady five artist core crew.
The neighborhood at St. Ben’s seems especially promising: sweet little bungalows, well-cared-for but not immaculate. “Business is good, yes, but it’s not necessarily driven by money. Artists have lots to express, and that’s who I want to give my money to.”
But, c’mon, it’s … you know, house painting.
“Ah, well, see, the secret thing that we do is that, with every job, we also make the customer a piece of art that has something to do with the job we just did. They love it. And it gives the artists a way to differentiate the job from the others – gives them a way to express themselves. It can be a little painting or a little sculpture. It can be pretty challenging too. If you’re waterproofing a deck, how do you make art that has to do with that?”