Imagine a custom-designed tabletop in your favorite colors, or a wall mosaic created to your taste. The tiles and mosaics Mercedes Austin creates are strikingly beautiful. But beautiful art is only part of what Austin, her business partner, Tracy Fesler, and their business, Mercury Mosaics, are about. Just as important to Austin and Fesler is contributing to the community. In their case, the community is one that is often portrayed in the media as virtually under siege: North Minneapolis.
Austin and Fesler are proud that Mercury Mosaics is located on the North Side, and they debunk the stereotype of their community as an unsafe place. “This community is in a state of renewal, and we’re glad to be part of it,” Fesler said. She and Austin feel that rather than creating in a vacuum, artists should be involved in the world around them. “Too many times artists get caught up in their own world. We decided to look outside our door and think ‘How are we going to create our community?'”
Creating community is a big part of one of their current projects, a collaboration with Juxtaposition Arts, a youth-focused visual art organization. Austin works side by side with local kids from north Minneapolis to install a mosaic tile mural on a 20-foot-long steel wall sculpture, teaching them how to cut, adhere and grout mosaic tiles into a beautiful work of art. When finished, it will adorn a steel wall at the sculpture garden located on West Broadway Avenue at Second Street North.
Community members are full of praise. “Mercedes is a talented artist who is using her interest in kids to help the community,” said DeAnna Cummings, executive director of Juxtaposition Arts.
Austin said she’s enjoyed the project and she’s especially glad the kids are getting the chance to work with a professional artist. She hopes to inspire the youth to continue building their skills and not be afraid to make their art a career goal. “I want the teens to see that just because you’re an artist doesn’t mean you’ll be scraping by-art can be a business,” Austin said. “I like to show them that someone can make a living off of their art.”
Speaking of making a living, at 29, Austin is quite young to be running her own business and says that sometimes people are surprised by her current success. Her passion for her art is a key factor in the business’ success.
“I’m always up for it [her art]. I’ll camp out, pack up my vehicle with supplies and drive for miles to do it,” Austin said.
Austin discovered the art of handmade tile seven years ago and was instantly inspired to learn the process. She began by working for local tile makers and taking in whatever knowledge they had to offer. Austin founded Mercury Mosaics in 2001, and until Fesler joined her, she often worked through the night and slept very little. Now that she’s in partnership with Fesler, 43, an artist who excels in marketing and promotions, not only does Austin sleep more, she’s seen the company reach a new level of growth, “This business is my baby,” Austin said.
“We’re just a couple of girls doing something-making it go!” Fesler said. “Before I came along, she [Austin] was alone; trying to do everything. Now she has more time to work on the art, while I do the more organizational side of the business.”
Both Austin and Fesler love the freedom they have in owning their own business., Someday, they hope their company will be represented in tile showrooms across the nation.
“It’s so nice to see it [Mercury Mosaic] headed in a healthy direction,” Austin said. “I’m investing in my own future, my own financial destiny and my career.”