Custom Arts Studio is an award-winning, woman-owned company in Philadelphia specializing in custom art and design. It has been featured in multiple media and shopping outlets, including CBS Philly, Philly Metro, 6abc, Wooder Ice, The Philadelphia Tribune, QVC, and the Home Shopping Network (HSN). Moreover, Custom Arts Studio was recently selected as artist-in-residence for the 3.0 University Place development project in West Philadelphia and it currently has original artwork in the permanent collections of three local museums.
The business is expanding from a studio-based operation to a 20th century Victorian property in Germantown. PIDC’s Commercial Mortgage Loan is assisting with the acquisition and renovation of the 2,423 sq. ft. commercial property. The Germantown ArtHaus, a nod to the early 20th Century German Bauhaus design school and Germantown’s German roots, will be housed in the new location. It is a creative hub slated to open this winter with an art cafe, artist studios, and commercial office space for the creative community.
PIDC caught up with Keisha Whatley, the founder and art director of Custom Arts Studio, on her business growth and future plans. Check out our interview.
PIDC: How did you start Custom Arts Studio?
Keisha: Custom Arts Studio started as a sole proprietorship in 2014. We incorporated in 2018. I have had the idea to create a space for artist development and entrepreneurship since 2018. I have always had a heart to help others. It has never been enough for me to win; I want everyone to win! Over 10 years ago, I had an idea to create an organization with a mission to help other artists earn money from their craft, offer professional development specifically designed for creatives, and provide opportunities to exhibit and connect with buyers. Over the years, as I learned about the importance of ownership, self-determination, and equity, this idea transformed into purchasing a three-story building that would offer those opportunities, workshops, and community connections. This led me to searching for a physical location to create the Germantown ArtHaus.
PIDC: In what ways has Custom Arts Studio grown since 2014?
Keisha: Custom Arts Studio is no longer a studio-based operation! We now have a brick ‘n mortar location which offers us a platform for expansion, serving the community, and creating opportunities for others. Custom Arts Studio has entered very successful partnerships with entrepreneur incubator programs which has increased our design revenue and prospects for long-term clients. We have also increased our illustration, portraiture, and mural revenue. I guess we are just expanding all around! Our motto for 2021 is #NoLimits.
PIDC: When and why did you seek PIDC’s assistance?
Keisha: I sought PIDC’s assistance in January 2021. I had, over the years, since 2018, found suitable properties but funding was a barrier to entry. My company was not established and banks like W-2’s [she chuckles]. Even with a solid credit score, owning a property outright, and [owning] my personal residence, no one would bet on me. When my realtor and entrepreneur colleague, Jania Daniels, mentioned PIDC and that their program could be a good fit for the project, I immediately applied. PIDC supported the Germantown ArtHaus project throughout the application process via resources, information about projections, offering resources for appraisal and inspections, and doing their due diligence to comb through the project’s numbers to ensure we were set up for success.
PIDC: Can you tell us more about your new business, Germantown ArtHaus, and the space it’s housed in?
Keisha: The mission of The Germantown ArtHaus is to empower and inspire the human spirit through the arts. The ArtHaus is unique in its focus and application. The Germantown ArtHaus will be a creative hub at the gateway to Germantown. The first floor will host a cafe offering coffee, specialty drinks, smoothies, salads, sandwiches, and soups. We will also employ a resident baker to bake on site. Like Barnes & Noble and Starbucks, but with art instead of books, we will curate various works of art by local artisans (jewelry, apparel, paintings, sculpture, digital art, etc.) and consign with them. We will also mentor our consigned artists.
The cafe is also designed to offer artists the opportunity to paint and create “live” in one of our storefront windows and we plan to host live music. Our side yard will be used for outdoor seating, evening live music events, and off-hours outdoor arts programming. The second floor will provide the community three artist studios for lease (individually or with a “studio-mate”) by artists or entrepreneurs. Professional development workshops and the opportunity to consign their work in the cafe will be extended to our studio artists. The third floor will be a studio apartment with a rooftop deck to extend the living space. On the lower level of the building, we will lease a 775 sq. ft. space to a commercial tenant or non-profit for administrative or programming space. The space has a private entrance in the rear of the building.
PIDC: You’ve accomplished so much over the years. What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Keisha: The most rewarding part of my entrepreneurship journey is the spark of inspiration that I see in the eyes of other visionaries and dreamers when they learn that I make money creating art and arts-focused events.