Lisa Lebovitz and Beth Schlager met 27 years ago in a baby pool.
“We were pregnant and turned around, and our stomachs hit,” Lebovitz remembered. Since then, they’ve run a marathon and hiked Mount Kilimanjaro together. When their youngest children departed for college, they wondered what they might do next.
“We sat down and said, ‘What do we love?’ ” Lebovitz said.
The answer was clear. “We love art. And we love Boston,” she continued. “And we both like supporting people’s careers. Not just selling art or having a fun experience, but also supporting the artists.”
Last year, they founded Cube Art Boston to help local artists network and sell their art. Schlager and Lebovitz plan studio tours and other events for potential collectors, whom they prefer to call “enthusiasts.” They bring suburbanites to studio buildings and serve up salmon and mixed-green salads as artists tell their stories.
“Let the artist’s story come out, and you come away feeling connected to the artist and the work,” Schlager said.
Such personal conversations demystify looking at art, an experience that can be intimidating in a gallery or museum setting.
“It’s my opportunity to come and ask the artist, ‘What is behind the art?’ That is a total thrill,” said enthusiast Kathy Bickimer of Weston. “It’s great for people who want to buy.”
Bickimer was attending the opening earlier this month of “Inside Voices,” Cube Art’s 30th event in less than two years and its first exhibition, featuring work by Clark Derbes, Cody Justus, and Timothy Kadish at LaMontagne Gallery.
All three artists have studios out of town, hence the idea for a show. Derbes’s sculptures and paintings by Justus and Kadish, all focused on grid, pattern, and shape, enter into crisp conversation, activating the gallery space.
Local artists have long grumbled that Boston museums turn a blind eye to them. The shifting market in the last 10 or 15 years has drawn area collectors away, as well. Collectors, often guided by art consultants, turn to the Internet or travel to buzzy art fairs to acquire art rather than visit brick-and-mortar galleries, which have seen a dramatic drop-off in foot traffic.
“We need more people looking at Boston art,” said Russell LaMontagne, LaMontagne Gallery’s owner. “There are a lot of art consultants in Boston who don’t look in Boston at all. … My deepest concern would be we’d make it impossible for someone to be an artist in Boston. If you can’t show here, why would you live here?”
Lebovitz and Schlager have jumped into that breach. They focus exclusively on New England artists. They stage events with no sales pressure and an emphasis on fun, learning, and socializing. And they bring along a wide social network developed over years. Both worked before they became full-time parents, Lebovitz in consulting and advertising and Schlager in banking. They later volunteered and sat on boards in Weston, where they both lived (Schlager recently moved to Boston).
The studio visits come in different packages. Cube Singles — an hour or more with a single artist — costs $35. A tour of three studios might run $50.
Then there are more tailored affairs that cost up to $125, such as an evening last year at Center Street Studio, master printer James Stroud’s shop, with artists Eva Lundsager and Jeff Perrott. That evening included dinner, a tour of Stroud’s art collection, and an impromptu piano recital by Stroud. Schlager and Lebovitz brought in a sommelier to pair wines with the art. He matched a full-bodied red with Stroud’s print, and explained why he’d made the link.
“Jim started crying,” Lebovitz remembered. “It captured what he was doing in this other art form.”
The next studio visit, on tap for Jan. 28, is with photographer Abelardo Morell, who reached out to Lebovitz and Schlager about a special portfolio he’s working on, “Water/ Fern/ Ink.” Sales of the portfolio will help fund a film that Morell’s son, Brady, is making. Because the focus is more on sales, the event will be free for enthusiasts, and Cube Art will take a commission.
Meeting artists, collectors get a private window into the art.
“In galleries, you hear a lot of artspeak. If you’re trying to take a work in, and you don’t understand half the words, it’s intimidating,” Schlager said. “Artists don’t speak like that. People have conversations.”
Painter Susan Jane Belton has hosted museum-sponsored group tours in the past. She’s a fan of Cube Art, who held a luncheon in her studio during a group tour. “They weren’t all about 'You go to an artist’s studio and get a discount,’ ” she said. “They respect us and the other players in the system.”
Cube Art’s fees cover the costs of the events. If a sale is made, they’ll take 10 percent. If the artist has gallery representation, that percentage comes out of the gallery’s commission. They have no overhead, and they don’t take salaries. When they’re not staging events, they’re talking up Boston artists to local curators and collectors, making connections that strike them as felicitous.
When they took a group to photographer Laura McPhee’s studio in October, McPhee explained her work with a large format camera before asking the group: “Do you want to see?”
“She picks up her camera, walks outside, and we’re all under the drape, looking through her lens,” Lebovitz remembered.
One of the enthusiasts on that studio visit — “a woman I met through a friend in Colorado who grew up in Idaho,” according to Lebovitz — purchased a photo by McPhee, who has worked extensively in the West.
“She went with Laura to the framers to frame it together,” Lebovitz said.
In the end, it may be that artists and collectors enjoy Cube Art events because Schlager and Lebovitz do. They describe the process, from planning to debrief, like teenage girlfriends talking about a party.
“Our litmus test with each other,” Lebovitz said, “is that it has to be fun.”
At LaMontagne Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., through Jan. 6. 617-487-3512, www.lamontagnegallery.com