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Jarrod's Blends Art, Culture in Downtown Mesa

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Walk into Jarrod's Coffee, Tea & Gallery in downtown Mesa on any given day, and you're likely to find an eclectic crew of patrons sipping lattes and perusing the art. Tattooed bikers sprawl on couches near mothers minding fussy toddlers. A woman wearing a hijab pops in for a coffee as a couple of alternative-looking teens loiter nearby, staring into their smartphones. An 86-year-old woman celebrating her birthday talks with the owner about how she wishes she was younger and her hairstylist wasn't gay, because he's so handsome.

Yet like the wide and disparate variety of art on display, it somehow all comes together.

"I wanted a place where everyone of all cultures and lifestyles was welcome," Jarrod Martinez says of his eponymous shop.  "I wanted a European effect with a native touch and multicultural effect."

The large, multi-roomed space at Main Street and Robson is a feast for the eyes. Paintings of landscapes depicting the tropics or the lavender fields of Provence line the walls, alongside snarling dragons, a pensive portrait of an American Indian woman, and a black-and-white photo of a rock singer screaming defiantly into her microphone. Cases filled with Southwestern-style jewelry — silver inlaid with turquoise and native-themed pieces — line the long walls, and chunks of raw turquoise, laid into the floor by Martinez, create a runway leading from the back door to the coffee counter. 

Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Martinez, 38, moved to Arizona 11 years ago in the midst of a career in trade jewelry, gem, and mineral shows, which is a family business. 

"My dad is a silversmith," he says, and the family also mined turquoise, which is where Martinez got the accents for the floor. "We put 60 feet of turquoise in."

With help from his brother, sister-in-law, and parents, he completely redid the space, laying in plumbing, redoing the electricity, and finally, crafting the atmosphere. Martinez got the space on Main Street almost four years ago right before the light rail construction began, and although he originally thought of opening just a gallery, a business partner convinced him to do double duty with coffee, tea, and light food. 

"My first espresso shot was here at the store," he laughs. "I never even drank coffee."

Martinez's open attitude doesn't just apply to his clientele or business model. To find art, Martinez posted ads on Craigslist looking for artists, which means the works covering the walls vary widely in skill level and don't necessarily relate to one another thematically. (Think more an eccentric's attic than an uptown gallery.)

"For young artists and artists honing their craft, [Jarrod's] gives them an outlet ... which encourages them to produce," says Craig "Wiz" McNeil, 65, a working artist since the '70s, who retired to the Valley from Michigan three years ago. After checking out the region's gallery scene, McNeil met Martinez.

"Jarrod himself is such a personable guy. He's not judgmental or anything. That makes a lot less sticky atmosphere than some of the galleries. A lot of time you have that atmosphere of a snotty type of person running the gallery. Jarrod — you walk in there, it's almost like you knew him, or almost like he's a friend already."

McNeil's output, as eclectic as Jarrod's itself, varies from paintings to metal sculptures and thematically painted motorcycles.

"I saw [Jarrod's] as being an area where my art would fit in with a lot of other stuff that's in there, with a bigger variety," McNeil says. 

Amber Bulinski, 26, says she gained more confidence in her artwork after showing her drawings, jewelry, and taxidermy fairies — mounted heads of horned, green-skinned, wide-eyed denizens of the other world — at the shop. 

"I was going to an expo at the convention center and stopped in," Bulinski says of her first visit to the cafe, where she struck up a conversation with Martinez. Before Jarrod's, her pieces were only seen at Mesa's Second Friday monthly art events. "It was one night at my own little table. Then, I'd pack up and go home and put them up on the wall."

Not satisfied with only offering visual arts to patrons, Martinez hosts monthly poetry readings, comedy improv performances, live music groups almost every weekend, and opportunities for artists of all levels to come in and practice drawing from a live model, all of which seems to fold nicely into his hopes of getting Jarrod's to be a place for everyone - something that wasn't always available to him during his childhood.

"I grew up very strict, Southern Baptist," he says. "Church, school, my whole life. There's a lot of times that you feel wrong in your life for decisions and who you are as a person. I didn't want people to feel that. I just think that people should be able to express who they are. "

Even with a background filled with, as Martinez puts it, "pressures of choices, of lifestyles," he's kept the door open even to the very types of people who were part of that restrictive childhood. As our interview comes to an end, a family of visiting, self-described "evangelists" enters the shop, orders something to drink and sits on a couch surrounded by paintings of naked women, fantasy beasties, and dancing spirits of the southwest. 

Jarrod's Coffee Tea & Gallery, 154 W. Main St., Mesa. For times and events, visit jarrodscoffeeteaandgallery.com.

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