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A group of DeLandites has launched an initiative to show off art from people of all stripes in places you wouldn’t expect.

Katie Baczeski, along with Matthew and Madison Creech, have started the Fresh as Fruit series of pop-up exhibitions, which highlights underrepresented artists, particularly LGBTQ+ artists and artists of color, in a venue you might not expect: an auto-repair shop.

The group had their first exhibition in the Fresh as Fruit series, with art on display Aug. 21-23, at Tom’s Auto Repair, at 211 W. Rich Ave. in Downtown DeLand.

The inaugural exhibition featured art from Marina Sachs, an artist currently living in Gainesville and working on a Master of Fine Arts at the University of Florida.

Baczeski and Madison Creech said that before the coronavirus pandemic, the two had some experience with putting on art shows at garages.

That initiative had to be shut down due to COVID-19, but Baczeski said the two had been scoping out vacant storefronts and other locations in Downtown DeLand in order to find a place to share interesting art.

The L-shaped building, complete with an abundance of window space at Tom’s Auto Repair, immediately caught their attention.

“I like to run, and I would run past Tom’s Auto in the evening, and it’s a beautiful L-shaped building,” said Baczeski. “It fit the theme of showing out of garages, so we decided to contact them.”

The shop’s owners were amenable to the idea, and a gallery opening was held Aug. 21.

Part of the reason the location was chosen was because of its proximity to the Stetson University campus, along with other Downtown DeLand amenities like the Athens Theatre.

“Anyone can drive by and see it, and there’s actually a really nice parking lot surrounding the display,” said Madison Creech. “There’s also public parking that’s really close.”

Having the display in a location that’s not an art gallery also makes it more accessible to those who might feel reluctant to visit traditional spaces where art is shown.

“This is an old building, it’s historical. It’s not your typical fine-art gallery,” said Baczeski. “We like to change it up, so it was very intentional that it was in this more dirty, easily accessible place that’s accessible for everybody.”

Part of Fresh as Fruit’s mission is to showcase artists who identify as LGBTQ+, along with artists of color, who often don’t get as many chances to showcase their work.

Marina Sachs identifies as nonbinary — meaning, Sachs doesn’t identify fully with male or female characteristics, and uses they/them pronouns — and has done work with indigenous youth, according to Creech.

Much of Sachs’ work involves digital prints along with three-dimensional spray foam, including a series known as BL_NK ME, which deals with objectification and sexual harassment. The series, which spans several individual pieces, explores phrases that men have used to harm the artist in the past.

“Each piece in the BL_NK ME series offers an intervention into the words and phrases that the artist has been called,” said Matthew Creech. “‘Try Me’ and ‘Face Me’ are responses to the experience of men using versions of those words to harm the artist. The series also challenges the viewer to look the artist in the eye and view her not as an object or a passive subject but as both the artist and the active.”

Baczeski said the pieces also explore the “male gaze,” which is common in media involving women.

“It’s really about Marina’s self-reflection on the body during the time of the pandemic, and also how to display that and how to use limited resources,” she said. “I feel like probably the ‘male gaze’ comes into it a little bit.”

The next artist to exhibit at Tom’s will be Emmanuel Opoku, who is also finishing an MFA at the University of Florida. His work will be on display Sept. 18-20, with an opening reception at 6-9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18, at Tom’s Auto Repair.

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