Starting a new business is never easy, but it is especially challenging to build during a pandemic. In this episode, APU business professor Dr. Ashley Taylor talks to Tiffany Murphy, owner of Art & Soul Gallery and Boutique in Philadelphia, about challenges she faced during the pandemic and times of civil unrest. Learn more about what drove her passion to open an African-inspired art gallery and boutique in an underserved Black community and how she’s weathered the storms by having a strong business plan, vision, and mission.
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Dr. Ashley Taylor: I’m Dr. Ashley Taylor, and I’m speaking with Tiffany Murphy. In this episode, we’re going to discuss entrepreneurship and creative vision. Tiffany, thank you so much for joining me. Let’s tell our audience a little bit about yourself and your professional background.
Tiffany Murphy: Thank you so much, Ashley, for having me on the show. First and foremost, I really appreciate the opportunity. My name is Tiffany Murphy. I am one half of the entrepreneurial team that owns Art & Soul Gallery and Boutique, an art gallery and an African-inspired boutique in West Philadelphia.
My professional background, I am an artist first with a specialization or a fixation on creating jewelry. I’ve been creating jewelry for necklaces, earrings, and things like that for maybe like the last six years. And it came out of necessity of not seeing things that I wanted to see out in the world. And more importantly, having them available at an affordable price point.
In addition to my artistry, which is my passion and really fuels a lot of other areas of my life. I am an educator, and I’ve been an educator for about 15 years now.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: So tell us a little bit about what made you want to start your business venture or take a non-traditional route.
Tiffany Murphy: You know, just really being driven by purpose. Putting things into the world or putting items and/or spaces into the world that you don’t see very often. So with what we do at Art & Soul, we have a full service art gallery, and where we work with local and regional artists and sometimes global artists to showcase their really incredible work. And then we have the boutique side.
So you have these African-inspired gifts, handmade clothing, body butters, and things like that. So the need to put the space out into the world is kind of what drove the ship.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: So your passion for art, and then your desire to bring that art to the masses sort of drove your decision?
Start a Business degree at American Public University.
Tiffany Murphy: It wasn’t only just to put out art, but it was a real need and, and intrinsic need to connect with community and to collaborate and provide much needed services to folks in the Haverford section of the city.
So we made the decision to open Art & Soul in a non-traditional area of the city. We are surrounded by residential houses, like, literally. Whereas you have other boutiques and art galleries that are put in metropolitan areas where there’s more traffic such as maybe South Street or Downtown or Manayunk or something like that.
We found this space like right in the heart of the Haverford Avenue community with the intention of educating the community about Africa, the cultural significance, the political significance and determine ways to service folks in the community better.
So an example of that is, of course, when people come in and say, hi, and things like that, someone touches a fan, we have the ability to have a conversation in terms of letting them know where it came from, showing them that this was literally made by hand by a family in Western Africa.
Really providing those things having these organic conversations, in addition to the community aspect, where we put on programming that speaks to needs in the community and providing a safe space.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: So let’s go back a little bit, just tell me very specifically, tell us the audience about your business the name of it, location and the products and services you offer.
Tiffany Murphy: Name of the business is Art & Soul Gallery and Boutique. Well, we are located in West Philadelphia 5912 Haverford Avenue. The services and things that we provide, goodness, where do I begin? So the art gallery side. We have a full-service art gallery where we work with a wide range of established and new artists to showcase and exhibit their work.
We also provide organizational and small curating services for folks as well as marketing and the whole, the whole gamut to really help to put the artists’ genius out into the world.
So we’ve been open since July 2019. So, we have had the opportunity to really work with a wide range of artists with different backgrounds and that work with different mediums to just to let Philadelphia know that this artist is in place. So that’s the art gallery side.
The boutique side, we work with a wide variety of artists that make things locally. So, for example, we work with a small husband and wife duo. The name of the business is THREAD by Denise and they make these really amazing skirts earrings and African-inspired accessories that made or makes a great fit within the shop.
So another layer of that education piece is when our clients come in and they ask questions about a specific product. And we let them know that you’re not just buying to sustain the store, but you’re buying this to sustain another small business, which is the beauty of economic development.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: So how did you develop the mission and vision for your venture?
Tiffany Murphy: My business partner, Jamese Newsome Williams, and I were really intentional in terms of what we wanted to put out with this brick and mortar. The tagline really speaks volumes and it feeds right into our mission, which is creativity, community, and collaboration.
So with the creativity piece, we have the ability to literally make the things that we want to see and put out into the world from an artist standpoint.
Community, we have the ability to engage with the community in lots of different ways. So if it’s not providing programming, specific programming, it is giving advice to budding entrepreneurs having the conversations with the elders about the resources or any questions that they may have about the things in the store.
And then the collaboration piece, which is, goes back to what I was saying earlier, allowing the opportunity to collaborate with other businesses, to house things within the shop itself as well as collaborative artistic ventures. So that’s our mission to be holistic in that regard.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: You made a point earlier in our discussion about the location of your business. And I thought that was very interesting because how often would you actually have those types of things happening in that location in West Philadelphia? I mean, book fairs and things of that nature.
Tiffany Murphy: In that community prior to us coming, it wasn’t a lot of things that was happening at all. Just because for one reason or another people really didn’t have the vision or the inspiration to bring things to the Haverford community. Again, this is why it was so important.
We didn’t realize that it was just a neighborhood where nothing was happening. Whereas though you have other places all over the city where you’ll have the Turkey drives or you’ll have like the community giveaways by politicians and community organizations, but it hasn’t really touched the, the Haverford Avenue community.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: And then your business was there able to fill a gap right there.
Tiffany Murphy: And there it is, there it is. Filling a gap and providing a safe space. So in addition to everything else that I mentioned, having this Black business in place in the middle of a community serves as a safe haven.
So I think I mentioned before that we’ve been there since July 2019. And in addition to everything that we’ve done with the community events, with servicing artists, having people come in and really support us, we had my instances of just random instances where people would run in because they felt like they were in fear of their life or something.
This one young man that came to the shop one day and he was being bullied. It was a group of kids that was chasing him and he came to the shop and he explained to us what was going on. And we literally just housed him in the shop and figured out a way for him to get out safely so he wouldn’t be harmed.
And, you know other things that happen in the community that would have ended differently had we not been there. And not to say that we’re necessarily a superhero or anything like that, but we provide a safe option. People feel like they can trust us enough to come in and seek shelter, so to speak. So that’s and just the power of a Black business.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: It’s so much more than an art gallery or an art boutique. So let’s talk about the challenges. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced since you’ve opened up your business?
Tiffany Murphy: Ah ‘rona, lemme start there. That doggone ‘rona. So we opened in July 2019 and as any small business you want to work to establish your identity, to build your brand, and to let everyone out in the world know exactly what it is that you do.
We were really grinding at the latter half of 2019 and going into 2020 with our signature event, we just started our signature event, head wraps and healing, which was really taking off. And then a number of people were coming in for event rentals, like space rentals. Book readings and community events, political events and stuff like that. So, again, people were really getting to know who we were and they were trusting us with their business, their events, and then ‘rona hit.
So at the end of February, beginning of March we got the orders to shut down. And that was a real challenge. Just knowing that one, we had to shut down our business, two, we just couldn’t access anything for a while because we were told to quarantine, we were forced to pivot.
But what could be seen or traditionally known as a challenge, we see it as opportunity to shift the lens and to do things differently as artists to continue to just put the things out that we want out into the world.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: Yeah. COVID-19 has done a number on all of us this year. I don’t think anybody was prepared for that businesses or individuals. And 2020 has also brought us, along with COVID-19, has brought us a time of social and civil unrest. Have you experienced that in the community around your business?
Tiffany Murphy: Well, fortunately our the brick-and-mortar business was not directly affected by the rights and the civil unrest. So we’re, we are tremendously grateful for that. There was lots of civil unrest that happened within the last nine months. One of which was the assassination of George Floyd out in Minneapolis. And I call it assassination because it was a death that was unnecessary at the hands of the police.
So you have all the civil unrest and the rioting and things like that, that come as a result of the masses or a certain community or sector of the community not being heard. So you have all this stuff that’s going on with marches and protests, which we have been actively engaged in. Because you know, the relationship between the Black community and the state and particularly the police has just been one of violence and a very tort relationship for centuries.
So, the civil unrest just comes as a result of the, the masses not being heard or the public not being heard. And here in Philadelphia, it hit us right in our own backyard with the assassination of brother Walter Wallace here in West Philadelphia, where it was just really simple. And it was a cry for help for a mental illness that he was experiencing. And because two officers, two inexperienced brand new officers came onto the scene, did not know how to handle that. You know, Walter Wallace was assassinated right in the middle of his, in the street, in front of his neighbors, in front of his mother, in front of children.
So you have a second wave of civil unrest, which included the looting. And again, it’s just a real problematic thing that you see that comes on top of a pandemic. On so you’re adding insult to injury. You already in a pandemic and people are just dealing with things mentally, economically, and then you have this already tart relationship between the police and the Black community, and it’s just heightening things.
So, again, we’ve been really working with groups and organizers to participate in these marches and participating in these peaceful rallies to let everyone know that this relationship has to end, has to end because you have the police, that’s ideally or so we’ve been told, put in a place to keep people safe, but it seems like that’s the antithesis with the Black community. So you have this problem that comes up where the police are scared. You have three or four police officers that are “scared” against one Black man. And they feel like they need to shoot. The last resort is to shoot.
Again, it’s just a problematic situation, but it’s a dialogue and a conversation that really needs to be had on a global scale, which is kind of like a benefit, so to speak, of all the civil unrest and everything that has happened. It was it was meant to come to a head.
So as a Black business, we definitely stand with everyone who is participating in this really, really important work to shift the narrative, to shift the dynamic and to overturn the relationship that exists.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: That’s very powerful. As you mentioned, you and your business partner, you’re standing with the community, and that comes back to your mission and your vision, the collaboration, you stood with them, you work with them and, and that’s your community. So that people around you, like you said, the gallery, the boutique, it becomes like a safe haven.
And then also your education portion comes through, because when you’re teaching these people about what’s going on around them and how it affects them and how they can move through it, and there’s a lot happening there. So how do you feel about your decision to become an entrepreneur?
Tiffany Murphy: I don’t regret it at all. We knew what we were getting into when we located the place, we knew that there would be challenges. We knew that the mission and what we wanted to do was much bigger than any obstacle that would come in our way, because you never know who would need something like this. You never know how you’re going to change someone’s life or inspire somebody by taking the calculated risks. So if we had to rewind time, we do it all over again.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: And so what is your advice to other women that would be considering a unique business venture?
Tiffany Murphy: Stay to course, be organized, don’t be easily swayed and surround yourself with people that will support you, that will lift you up. I think what people don’t or fail to acknowledge is your village, the importance of the village. Your family, your friends, and the people that you keep around.
It says a lot about your energy, the people that you keep in your circle. So if you have people on your team, that will consistently cheer you on. And most importantly tell you when you’re wrong or when stuff doesn’t make sense. That is a really, really important recipe for success.
So, just make sure that you have all your ducks in a row with the business plan and doing your diligence with researching paperwork and processes, because you want to have a legitimate business. It’s easy to have the bootleg business, but it could block your blessing, long-term. So just make sure you have everything in order and you know, you stay ready, so you don’t have to get ready.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: Tell us a little bit more about the importance of a business plan.
Tiffany Murphy: Oh man. So this is playing as your roadmap for your entrepreneur, for you as an entrepreneur is your roadmap, is your plan of action. It tells you everything that you’re supposed to do in order to get this done. So it lays out what your mission is.
It lays out what kind of business you are, whether you’re LLC or a corporation. It informs you as the business owner and anybody who has an interest on the outside about what your long-term and your short-term plans and goals are financially and otherwise.
A business will not do well if you do not have a plan. So I strongly encourage to anyone listening to this, please make sure that you have a business plan and everything that you need. And if you don’t have the capacity or the ability to collect these things and organize yourself, you find someone that can put those things in place for you, because it will benefit you in the short-term and the long-term.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: When we last recorded you mentioned the young man that came into the art gallery had an idea. Can you tell us about that?
Tiffany Murphy: Yes. So I’m just dropping jewels and the, I didn’t even realize I was dropping jewels until we finished. So it was a young brother who had walked in the gallery one day and he was looking for inspiration. He was looking at the things that we sold, all the beautiful African-inspired things that we sell.
And he began to tell me about something that he’s developing, which is, what he coined is, wearable technology. So and explained to me what this what, wearable technology does. I thought it was a fly idea. So I asked him do you have a business plan? No. If I were an investor, how would you and I told you, I wanted to, you know infuse cash into your business how would you respond? How would you show up? Where’s your business plan? And he said he doesn’t have one. He didn’t have one at the time. He didn’t realize or understand the importance of it. So I had to kind of break it down for him.
This is what a business plan does for you. It lets people on the outside know that you are serious about taking your idea or your vision to the next level. So he literally had a light bulb moment and he just really appreciated it. He was really thankful for just the conversation that we had. He still stops by and he not just buys things, but we have conversations in terms of where he’s progressing in his process. He asks for suggestions and resources on how to move with certain things. So that’s where we have the ability to engage the community in a serious way with that as well.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: And it comes back to that community, collaboration, and creativity. That is the basis of Art & Soul Philadelphia.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: I’ve been speaking with Tiffany Murphy about entrepreneurship and creative vision.
Tiffany Murphy: Thank you, Ashley. I appreciate you. And all that you do.
Dr. Ashley Taylor: So thank you so much for having this important conversation with me, Tiffany.