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What better place to hold an art exhibit than at a body shop? After all, smoothing the wrinkles out of panels without ever letting anyone know you were there can be considered fine art itself. Marrying both seems natural.
No one has to convince Giovanna Tanzillo of that. The co-owner of Uptown Body & Frame in Oakland, Calif., has been hosting puppet shows, concerts and art exhibits at her shop since first opening it with 53-year industry veteran Lisandro Ayende in 1991. Both Tanzillo and Ayende have always been interested in the arts, and equally interested in giving back to customers, especially in tough times like now.
“We feel very fortunate that throughout the downturn in the economy, we’ve stayed very busy, and it’s because of our customers and those who refer us,” Tanzillo says. “So we like to give back, and we do that by hosting events in our beautiful space.”
And beautiful it is. The front office structure (see photo above) looks like some kind of sleek futuristic train car. The building where it resides is where all of the events take place. The metal shop is located in a separate leased building four doors up the street, and the paint shop is also in a different location. That keeps the main building nice and neat for “First Fridays” (an art exhibit held at the shop the first Friday of every month) and the puppet show that will be shown each Sunday in December. A local choir recently gave Tanzillo risers, so now she has a stage in addition to a stellar sound system.
Even if there isn’t an exhibit going on at the shop, customers won’t be robbed of an opportunity to satiate their lust for art. Professional black-and-white photos of Uptown employees working in all stages of auto body repair hang on the walls.
“I wanted people to see not only the faces of the people who would be fixing their cars but also see what the processes are,” Tanzillo says.
As far as other art in the office, Tanzillo prefers whimsical, joyful and positive pieces from artists like Brian Andreas and Sark. One Sark poster Tanzillo has had in the office for 10 years tells “how to relax about money,” and she says she has had dozens of customers tell her how that one poster changed their lives.
“I’ve watched people’s physical posture change when reading Sark prose about how to relax about money,” says Tanzillo. “They come in stiff and unhappy, and I watch them relax. To me, this is proof that poetry, books and art are definitely an asset in this business.”
Oh yes, we must mention the books, which line the walls of the reception area. Tanzillo says most of the books have a “positive bent,” with some tackling metaphysics. A little philosophical reflection in the body shop? Why not?
Uptown’s promotion of the arts through its shop seems to work well with Bay area residents, who Tanzillo admits tend to be liberal. But she thinks her shop’s unique approach would succeed in any city.
“I think my shop would work even more in, say, Chicago because it’s so unusual,” she says. “People need to be surrounded by color and be happy and feel positive about things no matter where they are, probably more so in areas where these feelings aren’t as accessible as here.”