New business is cocoon for emerging artists in Riverwest

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It’s a Sunday afternoon and Rachel Buth is working on a tank-top design for a client. She’s reducing her design down to two colors with the help of friend and Cocoon Room co-owner Shelia Teruty. Amid the creative idea sharing, Amanda Mills, the store’s third co-owner, is showing a curious passerby the space’s clothing boutique and art section. 

The amorphous Riverwest arts venue is a multi-operational space that functions as an art gallery, boutique store and creative workplace that also transforms into a music venue at dusk. The three co-owners envisioned a venue similar to Foxglove Gallery, which formerly occupied the space. 

All three are engaged in the curating process and they share mutual goals. Each owner acts as an essential leg for the tripod that balances the Cocoon Room.

“We all have our own tastes, but we all agree on what good art is,” Teruty says. “We all went to school for art and design and have been doing these things for a long time. We look for artists who are unique and have different perspectives.”

Founded in November 2012 and launched earlier this year, Cocoon Room aims to fulfill the owners’ belief that the neighborhood needed to continue holding “a place to celebrate the arts and the Riverwest community,” Buth says.

When seeking a name for their multifaceted gallery, Mills was attracted to the concept of a cocoon. 

“The idea behind it is something crawling inside and going through metamorphosis – changing, learning, creating and coming out as something else. Kind of like a transformation,” she says.

During their regular hours, Cocoon Room serves as a small boutique that sells curated pre-owned clothing, as well as new, handmade apparel, jewelry and other accessories. The owners say they don’t want Cocoon to be considered a typical second-hand store, so they choose items that reflect their unique style.

The space also can be rented out at a modest price for both music events and art installations. People can be shopping for clothes, listening to a band and enjoying work by local artists – all at the same time. 

Even before opening, Cocoon Room’s owners showed their hospitality by hosting shows for Riverwest Fest. For gay Pride month in June, the gallery displayed the “Celebrate Queer Milwaukee” artist series. 

In addition to the other activities, Cocoon Room serves as a space for the owners’ other businesses, which include So Passé, a fashion design enterprise, Redish, a photography studio, and Sunshine Acid Designs, which makes jewelry and clothing. Recently, So Passé and Sunshine Acid Designs contributed a fashion editorial for Info* magazine. 

The three entrepreneurs cooperate well in managing the gallery and say they’re excited for future events and endeavors. 

“We all take responsibility and combine our talents and experiences to run it and make it successful,” Buth says. “We encourage people to send in images and ideas for shows. I don’t know how people are hearing about us but we get requests from everywhere – all different states.”

Cocoon Room has just finished installing works by emerging artists Nick Hetzel, Shawn Gurath and Wiliam Arthur. In September, the gallery plans on hosting a fashion photography show. Inspired by her recent experience teaching at Children’s Outing of America, a youth and family center located in Riverwest, Mills plans to offer jewelry-making classes at Cocoon Room. 

Together the owners have created a space that both nurtures and exhibits the growing arts scene in Riverwest.

“Cocoon Room is a haven of good energy and creativity,” Mills says. “We have a work space here and if people want to come in and work on stuff they can. That’s one of the reasons why we’re here.”

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