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Art gallery with ambitious plans opens in heart of Camden this week

The opening of a new business in highly impoverished Camden is considered a notable accomplishment. The opening of a new art gallery in Camden is almost unheard of. That makes this week's opening of Gallery Eleven One, a "contemporary art studio and gallery," at 339 N. Front St. on Rutgers University’s Camden campus, such a noteworthy event. Gallery Eleven One is the product of artist William Butler, and his socially aware art, design, and clothing company, Thomas Lift, LLC.

Coming from Des Moines, Iowa, Butler deliberately chose to open his gallery in such a low-income city. After all, one of the main missions of his company is to help poor people of the inner city. To this end, Butler plans to donate at least 10 percent of Gallery Eleven One’s profits to socially conscious causes. Many of these beneficiaries are located within Camden, including Heart of Camden, which builds homes for financially destitute people, the Nehemiah Project, which focuses on removing blight through education and other means, as well as charter schools. Butler puts it succinctly when he says he wants his gallery to be "a small conduit causing a spark."

Gallery Eleven One is seen as a resource for Camden residents and Rutgers students alike. Butler is ardent about enabling everyone in Camden to be able to view his artwork. He has dreams of reaching out to charter schools to spread his art’s message to youth, and he also aspires to collaborate with other artists in Camden. Given the outcry about Camden’s shuttering of fire stations, it is a brush of irony that Butler opted to locate his gallery in a fully restored 1906 firehouse.

It is important to note that Butler is also looking to attract non-Camden residents and non-students to his gallery. Ads for Eleven One’s opening make prominent mention of how close the gallery is to Camden’s waterfront, making prominent mention of its proximity to Campbell’s Field and the River Line.

Butler gives some insight into what kind of artwork will be available at his gallery. He plans on featuring contemporary, abstract, and figurative pieces.

“There will be quite a variation in size, color, and feel,” says the artist. He gives a rough estimate of the range in size, which goes from 24x24 inches at the small end to 5x7 feet at the large end.

The buzz around Gallery Eleven One not withstanding, Butler and Thomas Lift, LLC plan to expand in the future. He’s looking at another abandoned firehouse in South Camden as a potential creative space for Camden residents. This would be a contrast with the Rutgers location, as South Camden is an exponentially rougher and lower-income neighborhood. Butler’s goal is to give "residents and visitors a number of access points" to art. However, this might be as far as a year away from opening. For now, Gallery Eleven One opens on Friday, with the opening reception spanning Friday and Saturday. 

Source: William Butler, Thomas Lift, LLC
Writer: Andy Sharpe
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