Mercer Redcross, III
Connecting People with Art
Native Philadelphian, Mercer A. Redcross, III, co founded the October Gallery with his wife, Evelyn, in 1985. The gallery’s first location was in the Powelton Village section of the city; it is now in the Germantown section, where it continues to promote African American art, artists and consumer education.
Redcross has always been a collector. His initial interests included Lionel model trains, antique clocks and traditional art. Later, he became a collector of African American art. This new fervor stirred a special excitement. He often traveled from state to state to meet the artists in person, see their studios and broaden his experiences by sharing theirs. For him, learning is just as important as purchasing. His personal interests led to becoming a nationwide source for art collectors, just a few years later. The gallery has been instrumental in establishing value for African American art and a consistent platform for artists to showcase their talent.
Redcross has always been a front runner in making art and art education accessible to all people. Further, he realized that art is an ideal medium to communicate culture, history and broad human experiences. As a result, Connecting People with Art has been his mantra for years.
Defining moments: First is my family that raised me. We were a regular family in West Philadelphia; my mother, father and grandparents and a big extended family. I would go to my grandmother’s house every day after school where my aunt, who was attending the University of Pennsylvania, would be. She was very detailed oriented, which helped shape me academically. My father owned a variety store, and I worked there as a youngster. I was the stock boy and worked the register when I got older. That influenced me to move into being an entrepreneur.
Significant accomplishment or project: My wife and I started the October Gallery 33 years ago. African American art has been our endeavor and it has sustained us, not just us but the community at large and so we are very, very proud of that. There are very few African-American art galleries anywhere in the U.S. with a physical location which has endured for over three decades.
Advice for young people: I have a grandson who now attends Yale University, who asked me, ‘What is the number one thing that you think an entrepreneur needs?’ I told him good health, eating right, taking care of your body and your mind. Because it’s long hours of business management and ownership. You have to have a strong vision and be able to execute it, so you have to have good health.
The universe plays a big part in our outcomes. My grandmother used to say ‘think back over all the major events in your life. You really have very little control over them,’ like the day you’re born, the day you die. When I think about all of these years of being in business for myself, fortunately, the right people showed up at my door at the right time.
How to build relationships within the African Diaspora: My son once said: ‘Every time you are buying something or doing something, think Black first.’ That doesn’t mean you are anti-other people. Hopefully, we’ll start to think about supporting ourselves first.
When you think about supporting Black businesses, you will sometimes get responses from those who have had bad experiences from doing so. We must be forgiving. We are not Wal-Mart or Sears, we cannot do what they do. Go back to that business or to that person you are dealing with and tell them. Walking away with buyer’s remorse and a determination not to support Black businesses ever again is counterproductive. These moments can be learning opportunities. We just have to start thinking this way, then we’ll start to do it.