Member Impact: Cheryl Katz of C&J Katz Studio and BEST Hospitality Training
Member’s Design Expertise Meets Grantee’s Art Display Need
When TPC member Cheryl Katz and her husband Jeffrey launched their design studio more than 30 years ago, they did so with the belief that design could be used as a problem-solving tool. Cheryl relates, “We were less interested in issues of up-to-the minute design, though of course we didn’t ignore trends, but in creating environments that allowed inhabitants both at home and in the workplace to be surrounded by beauty and comfort.”
They were, and continue to be, evangelical about design and its ability to bring joy.
The Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport, which opened in September 2021, had a special provision included in the proposal that was ultimately accepted by the City of Boston: the hotel developers (Omni Hotels and Resorts and The Davis Companies) would include a training space for multi-year TPC grantee BEST, the education and training program for UNITE HERE Local 26, the hospitality workers union.
Joan Abbot, BEST’s Interim ED, tells us, “We are thrilled about this new training space. The location is perfect – there are at least four Local 26 hotels in the Seaport area alone, and most of the other Local 26 hotels are nearby in Boston. Omni has been a key partner to BEST over the years – first at the Omni Parker House and now at the Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport. Their Local 26 workers attend BEST upskilling classes, and they hire BEST’s job seeker graduates.”
But the move from Nubian Square in Roxbury presented one tiny problem. The art collection on loan or accumulated by BEST from the Hamill Gallery of Tribal Art and the Art Connection needed to be placed in the new space. (The Art Collection is now defunct, but it bears mentioning that this wonderful nonprofit was founded as a way for nonprofit organizations on limited budgets to be able to display original pieces of art. Artists and art owners donated art, nonprofits went through a lengthy democratic voting system to choose pieces, and the artwork was then displayed in perpetuity in spaces seen and appreciated by the community. BEST received 20 pieces of artwork from The Art Connection when it opened its Roxbury training space in 2016.)
All the artwork in the collection has special meaning, making the job of placing it in the new space all the more difficult. Many of us have stood, staring blankly at a wall, hammer and nail in hand, too squeamish to make a move, patching skills aside. Joan, one of the many, said “The idea of hanging more than 30 pieces of art in this vast space – sloped hallway, lobby area, three classrooms, an office – was absolutely overwhelming to me.” If only an expert could be conjured…which in this case is exactly what happened. Joan, knowing of TPC’s vast pool of talented, generous women, asked for help and Cheryl immediately answered the call. She shared, “We saw the opportunity to help BEST, a great organization doing important work, place art as a chance to enliven its new space. Art offers inspiration and helps us see things in new ways.”
Indeed, Joan shared a bit about some of the artwork and its significance to BEST’s clients:
- Two large pieces, one featuring a Black woman, the other a White woman, by the French-Russian artist Erte (“The Father of Art Deco”) hang near the employee dining room entrance to BEST. It sets the tone of high-end luxury for the hotel workers who attend classes. The piece featuring the Black woman was consciously placed nearest to the entrance as BEST’s students are primarily people of color.
- The large wooden village Dan serving spoons are on loan from the Hamill Gallery. In West African villages, when there’s a big feast, the chief’s wife will use these spoons to serve the villagers food. These spoons were chosen because they represent hospitality.
- The wooden Baga serpent sculpture near the BCEC doorway represents a protective spirit in the West African country of Guinea. BEST has clients from Guinea and nearby countries for whom this may resonate.
- A portrait of Mel King hangs in the “Mel King Classroom.” Many Bostonians know Mel King and the good work he has done for Boston over the years. Mel graciously allowed BEST to use his name for its diversity initiative, called the Mel King Empowerment Program.
Despite Joan’s incredulity when told by Cheryl that she thought she could accomplish the job in an hour – “I thought she was crazy!” – the artwork was masterfully laid out and ultimately installed. (For those still a little paralyzed, Cheryl offers this advice, “When hanging art, it’s good to think about the size of the area in relation to the size of the piece – art should ‘hold’ the space.”) Joan told us, “Watching Cheryl in action was like watching a chess grandmaster win a tournament game.” Of course, according to Cheryl, “Joan made the job so easy. She was encouraging, cordial, and incredibly helpful.”
To close, when it can, TPC often goes beyond the check by connecting grantees with members with the talent, skill, or means to meet any number of needs. We encourage you to watch for social media posts or emails that offer volunteer opportunities that are rewarding for both recipients and participants. As for Cheryl, she notes, “One of the rewards and responsibilities of being in the design world for a while is the chance to share what I know. I guess you could call it paying it forward.”