Cherokee Street Gallery Owners Create Social Networking Site for Artists

At the current rate, the co-owners of Cranky Yellow, an art gallery/concert venue/clothing shop on Cherokee Street, will become the Mark Zuckerbergs of the art world.

Less than a month ago David Wolk, Matt Hucke, and Daniel Shinn launched Squishums, a unique social networking site for local artists. Already the service has more than 125 members (some from as far away as Detroit) and is averaging 200 unique page views per day.

"We'd been developing [the site] for about three months," Wolk says, sipping a can of Pabst sitting on a tiny chair in the cluttered shop. "It went live on August 20 and we posted one link on Facebook. It's kind of random. We weren't expecting anyone to join."

Squishums is basically a blend of Digg, Flickr, and Facebook. Artists create a profile, then upload images of their work or other art they enjoy. They are then able connect with other people by "squishing" items that other users have uploaded. The site's software learns from each person's unique tastes and recommends the work other artists, creating what Wolk calls "an inspiration feed."

"It's the type of thing that gets smarter the more people use it," says Hucke, the software developer of the group. He adds that the site still has a few kinks to work out, including offering users the ability to upload videos and a smartphone interface. "We're letting it grow organically."

Beyond it's intended application as a means to share art, the site is also a way to spread news and find inside information on the happenings of the St. Louis art world. Wolk, for instance, recently posted on his profile a photo of this creation he hung anonymously on a derelict building down the street from his shop:

click to enlarge The Squishums team: David Wolk, Matt Hucke, and Daniel Shinn.
The Squishums team: David Wolk, Matt Hucke, and Daniel Shinn.

The image came with the caption "Im going to try and start doing more street oriented work.Im cooperatively coordinating a secret project on Cherokee Street and found it to be the perfect opportunity to start dropping some work on abandoned buildings...This work is free for the taking if you can find its location!"

The Cranky Yellow crew-- which also includes Angelo Stege, in addition to the Squishums teams-- has been located in their shop at 2847 Cherokee for the past three years.  Their tiny basement gallery/concert venue hosts some of the more quirky events in St. Louis, including an art exhibit last month titled "Meth and Hotdogs" and an adults-only sock puppet production of Beowulf.

Obviously, they aren't the likeliest group to launch an upstart social media venture.

Wolk says the idea for Squishums came partly after he "had a dream that he was using it" and they settled on the name because they "like things that are squishy." Shinn, the site's graphic designer, adds that he plans on crafting a mascot for the site by stripping a Furbie doll of it's fur and covering it with chewed bubble gum.

Beyond adding new features and smoothing out glitches, the trio says they hope people other than artists will be interested in the site. "It's geared toward artists," Wolk says. "But you can upload anything that inspires you."

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