Mellissa Basham is 25 years old, diminutive and fashionable. She's lived mostly on her own since she was 16, working odd jobs and waiting tables. She has no formal training in business, nor a stockpile of seed money.
But two months ago, she created Ephesium Events, a company that she sees eventually functioning as an independent curator — pairing artists and gallery space, while generating money for charity. And three weeks ago, she left a longtime job at hip hangout Shuga's to work at Il Postino, where she'll wait tables, curate the back-room gallery, and incubate Ephesium for the next year or so.
Over coffee and a lunch of mixed greens and grilled salmon in the month-old restaurant, Basham comes off as both bold and nervous. She outlines how she aims to revamp the Springs' art scene by offering a different take on traditional gallery operations — "the art, the opening, the music, the dancers, whatever" — but minutes later draws inward and asks me, "Is that weird?"
Then, right away, she goes resolute again: "I'm a weird person. I'm a server, I'm a company owner, run a gallery, I have a personal assistant and I wait tables."
So fresh, so clean
If the presence of a personal assistant doesn't surprise, look at the art. Or rather, look at where you look at the art.
In what's nicknamed the "Silver Ballroom," tall, square columns hold up a ceiling of embossed silver metal, over a shiny wooden floor, reached through a back alley door. Large windows help ring an L-shaped room, gushing gallons of light on to the clean, white walls that hold 25 to 30 pieces.
The Silver Ballroom may be the best viewing space in the city outside of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and it's but a portion of what Raphael Sassower and Perry Sanders Jr. are offering through their Mining Exchange Hotel complex, of which Il Postino is a part.
"I think it's a nice thing, and especially if it's on consignment, to have different art here," says Sassower, who owned the art-meets-food venue, Warehouse Restaurant and Gallery, before selling in 2007.
Basham says she's had no trouble finding artists to book, and is planning out to March, including a January fashion exhibition featuring the photography of local paparazzo Bradley Flora. In the meantime, her new show features nude photography from locals Kevin Howard and Indy graphic designer Rebecca Tillett, among others.
"Her stuff's amazing — I just feel these crazy emotions that I really shouldn't," Basham says of Tillett's work.
Basham hopes to inspire similar feelings within the scene, which she believes can use a little nudging. "Who are we to tell them that they're wrong because they take a picture of a nipple?"
So the goal of NUDE is larger than mere exhibition. If Basham shocks a few Western-Art-loving sensibilities along the way, so be it: "It's like the rest of the world has this idea of what art is," she says, "and we think it's horses."
Not that she's out to alienate everyone — fellowship's a big thing with Basham. Past hardships make her sensitive to those in need of assistance, so she'll kick entrance fees and portions of proceeds to rotating local charities like CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). And she's planning to debut an online automatic donation program in January, wherein regular donors receive free admission to Ephesium events.
Her vision for her fledgling company is big, and fairly complex. Hell, she's creating multi-artist, multi-themed openings-slash-costume-parties in the back space of a brand new restaurant. But make no mistake: Once you step into an Ephesium show, she says, you'll see her vision of art. Period.
"We don't do food — none of my events will ever have food. Because I'm not here to feed people food — I'm here to feed them art, feed them music, feed them community."