We, MadKat Studios founders MK Noonan and Madeleine Boucher, sought to open our studio and gallery together mainly to have a space to create close to home. We wanted to give emerging artists a venue to exhibit their work, since we have found that traditional galleries are often gate kept for more established creators.

1 Madeleine Boucher (left) and MK Noonan (right) at the MadKat Studios booth during an art fair in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania.

Establishing the Business

In our efforts to establish a brick-and-mortar shop, we combined elements of different business models—including retail, manufacturing, and fee-for-service—in order to fit our vision. Fee-for-service works well for kids’ classes, while manufacturing and retail provide good structure for selling artists’ work on consignment. While revenue is important to our financial mindset, we also value the inclusion of people from all financial backgrounds. We operate on a low-percentage consignment fee of each sale going to the gallery and do not charge application fees. Implementing small installation fees for accepted artists instead is not only more welcoming than blanket application fees, but also leads to a larger pool of applicants. 

Finding equipment and resources on a budget was one of our first endeavors. Once we found a location close to our home and within our budget for rent, we each took on other jobs and implemented fundraising efforts in order to avoid third-party lending. We were overjoyed to receive financial assistance from generous loved ones and members of the community here in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania. Our initial space is just under 600 square feet, leaving room for change and growth. We make use of handbuilt modular furniture and gallery walls to support the wide variety of exhibitions and classes we offer in our space. In the future, we hope to acquire a larger space better suited to our studio processes and applications that also accommodates larger community events. The studio was once carpeted and served as the space for many other prior establishments, including a bait shop, dry cleaners, and a butcher’s shop. Renovations were necessary, and we replaced all flooring, rebuilt the front window display, refinished built-in shelving, and added some color to the formerly dreary gray walls. Patience was a key factor in renovating and making the studio our own.

In our lease agreement, we worked out details of renovations to update the space, ultimately raising its value. We completed all the work ourselves and came to a fair understanding for compensation with the building owner. The rebuild of the front window display and gallery flooring was covered by our landlord as it was unsafe for displaying ceramic works and pedestals. Later on, we updated the back half of the space to accommodate our studio needs. This cost was on us, but the understanding is that we increased the space’s value, and now can work in a more fitting studio.

2 Madeleine Boucher and MK Noonan at the grand opening for MadKat Studios. 3 Market section of the display area at MadKat Studios.

We ended up taking some much needed time off from making art when we began our renovations in the fall of 2020—until we opened our doors for business in the summer of 2021. This was the first time in five years that either of us had taken a break from our personal studio practices. While uncomfortable at times, the hiatus we took in order to renovate our space supplied us with contemplative time to conjure new ideas, and the end result made it far more than worthwhile. Both of our spaces are incorporated in the back portion of the studio and work in conjunction with each other. We opted to install our kiln in our own home, which is a short walking distance from the studio, so that we did not need additional electrical installations. At times, traveling to the kiln can be daunting, but the townspeople seem to get a kick out of it and will often inquire to help us move our pieces. The ongoing need for maintenance is the only obstacle we could not foresee. Our building is 100 years old as of 2022, and while that is historic and special, it has caused us to run into a few unavoidable problems. Occasionally we have run into water damage due to leaks running down from the apartments above us and the need for a new hot water heater for the building. Our landlord is very kind and fixes these issues almost immediately. Ultimately, our business and the work we house have remained undamaged throughout every unforeseen event. 

Opportunities and Connections

We follow a social-media plan for posting events for ourselves and the small town we live in. From time to time, we dip into a marketing budget for external promotion, but we try to keep it free and simple, which tends to work out for us. We operate on consignment and write our own contracts and forms with the advice of friends who are practicing lawyers in the Midwest. As of now, we exhibit artists who have some sort of connection to the state of Pennsylvania, whether that be through current residency or prior education. Often, we extend exhibiting opportunities to current and former students at Edinboro University (Penn West), our alma mater, as well as other local universities. We find that our market enjoys handmade and local goods, so we aim to include work from creators who are not widely shown in our area, ranging from emerging to established artists. 

We both are very open about maintaining separate jobs (beyond working at MadKat Studios) that we enjoy, in addition to being artists and selling our own work. This aids in having multiple streams of income and ultimately makes our storefront possible. The studio winds up paying for itself since its cost is so low, due in part to its location. We both believe that there is always room to grow and expand MadKat Studios, but where we began in this small town is very important to us. 

4 Pottery-painting class at MadKat Studio. 5 Kids’ class at MadKat Studio.

MadKat Studios operates mainly by appointment, because our schedules and lives can differ daily, and we choose to give ourselves grace in that respect. We do our best to maintain a Thursday through Saturday schedule from 12–7pm. Receptions and other events surely exist outside of those hours, and often we find ourselves in the studio at all hours of the day or night, depending on deadlines. The most enjoyable aspect of being able to run a studio and gallery is the ability to give artists their first show and the proximity of the studio to our house. Our ability to expose the community of Elizabeth and surrounding areas to local artists in their region while providing events for creatives and patrons to meet and to form new connections is why we founded MadKat. We are active in our community with town markets, holiday fairs, and collaborations with other local businesses. We wish to remain as involved with local artists and townsfolk alike, in the hopes that we can expand the opportunities for others and provide affordable art lessons, gallery access, and events. 

We value the power of artistic collaboration and the catalyst it can create for communities. Most recently, we’ve painted set designs for our local community theater in downtown Elizabeth, the Grand Theater, for their rendition of The Wedding Singer the musical. Past collaborations have included making vessels for a Pittsburgh candle maker, Lazy Lou Candles, that makes song-themed candles for purchase. Throwing and decorating each vessel for a particular song to complement accompanied scents was such a fun and enjoyable way to incorporate ceramics into an everyday item. Currently, we are in talks to collaborate with a new local business, Firewhistle Brewing. We would make ceramic growlers marketed with MadKat and the brewery’s branding to sell and fill in their taproom. In addition to the growlers, the brewery has also requested we fill their taproom with local art, giving space for artists of all skill levels and abilities. These collaborations not only bring an artistic element to each project, but also provide us and other businesses with necessary community morale and spirit.

Having established ourselves in the art scene of Pittsburgh, we aim to focus more on our own personal studio endeavors. The gallery will have more of an online presence than physical presence for our market section of MadKat, with continued in-person events scheduled on a quarterly basis. This differs from our first operational year, where we scheduled new exhibitions and subsequent opening receptions every month. We believe holding quarterly in-person receptions, instead of monthly, would create a demand for our space, allowing folks to plan out their visit to MadKat and look forward to it. We love our in-person events, but holding monthly showings and subsequent receptions caused burn out in areas of our lives. 

The gallery section of MadKat studios, showing mugs by Luke Doyle and Brandon Lipe on the pedestal in the foreground. Additional works by Dana Miller and Mark Tarabula can be seen in the background.

To preserve energy and serve everyone’s best interests, we want to engage more online. We find that we drive a lot of internet traffic from our social-media accounts and want to capitalize on this more. We have found that online sales can do well almost any time of month, contingent upon how much promotion we can accomplish. We want to use the tools readily available to us to bring success to all areas of the business. 

The feedback and commentary we have received the most frequently from our peers and community members includes, “I would have never expected this to be in Elizabeth,” and “This was my child’s favorite birthday party ever.” These are sentiments we hope to maintain and lead with in our coming years here at MadKat Studios. 

the authors MK Noonan is a multi-disciplinary artist focusing on surreal narrative dreamscapes—often using mixed media, including found materials in combination with painting and ceramic sculpture. MK co-founded MadKat Studios, outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she has her studio practice and teaches private and group art lessons.

Madeleine Boucher is a wood-fire potter who focuses on the function of traditional pottery while allowing contemporary practices to influence her work. MadKat Studios is where she holds her studio practice, while she fires a wood kiln with a group of hard-working ceramic artists in the Laurel Highlands. To learn more about MadKat Studios, visit www.madkatpgh.com.