By Lauren Moquin, Globe Correspondent
Rob Festa, an architect, says he decided in 2007 that it was going to be “the year I’m going to get off the couch.” So he bought a camera and took some photos he felt confident enough to submit to the annual Jamaica Plain Open Studios.
A year later, Festa earned the honor of being a finalist in the National Geographic Photography Contest with his photograph “Glimpse,” taken at The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, a former prison that is now a National Historic Landmark open to the public.
“There were photos from around the world,” Festa said of the National Geographic Photography Contest. “I looked around at the other photos thinking ‘Who am I?’ ‘How did I get chosen?’ and ‘This is so cool!' ''
Festa now co-owns a gallery, UFORGE, 767 Centre St., and he said he wants to use it to challenge the Jamaica Plain community to get inspired just as he did.
Festa lives in Chelsea with his fiancé, but he said has every intention of moving back to Jamaica Plain, lived for 20 years. He originally moved to Jamaica Plain in 1994, he said, because of the inexpensive rent in a tough economy for college graduates and eventually found himself falling for its vibrancy, keeping him coming back.
“Never say never. I say that to myself all the time. Even after I moved from Jamaica Plain, I say, ‘O geez, I’m never going to drive from work to the gallery again,’ and then I find myself at 6 a.m. at the gallery. Never say never. It’s just a funny thing,” Festa said, laughing.
Although “Glimpse” did not go on to win the National Geographic Photography Contest in 2008, Festa submitted another photograph that year, “Sprite,” taken during a walk with his dog through Forest Hills Cemetery. The photograph can be seen on National Geographic’s “Infinite Photo” page, where photos are broken down by pixels built of other photos. One can click through photos on an infinite loop to see sights of all colors and textures.
Festa grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, with a keen interest in the visual arts, constantly drawing and taking pictures. In eighth grade, he knew that he wanted to become an architect and earned a degree in architecture from Wentworth Institute of Technology in 1991. Now he tries to balance his architectural work, his photography, and the gallery.
Festa serves on the board of the Jamaica Plain Arts Council and continues to experiment with photography — he displays his work in three and four shows a year — he now spends much of his time helping artists in Jamaica Plain.
At UFORGE Gallery Festa and his partner, Brian Crete, take art from anyone who is willing to create art that fits a theme the two owners choose every month. Neither of them know what comes in to the studio until the night they curate the work at their show, which is held on the first Thursday of every month. At a given time there can be 20-50 works hanging on the walls, by everyone from professional artists to first-time artists.
Festa smiled as he gazed around the gallery last week. “That ‘Food Fight’ painting is done by a boy who is nine years old, his dad’s is here, and his 13-year-old brother’s work is over here,” he said. “There is also a repeat artist over here.”
Since many of the artists are new being in a gallery, only family and friends of the artists are invited to the shows. This way, Festa said, they learn how to ingle and network to help them move forth with their work.
When Festa refers to his mission for UFORGE, he recalls a comment that artist Michael Glowacki, who has exhibited at UFORGE, left on the gallery’s website: “When Blondie talks about being unknown and playing at CBGB, it’s like how I see UFORGE. Someday someone is gonna say UFORGE was their launching point. That’s exciting to me.”
“When I saw the comment, I was thrilled. This is exactly what I want UFORGE to be,” Festa said.
As Festa walked to the back of the gallery, where some of his own work hangs, he wound up circling right back to the front of the gallery to talk more about the monthly shows.
“It’s really giving artists an opportunity. Every month, seeing that show go up and doing the reception a couple days later and having everybody here, lots of artists who have never shown their work. Just to see their faces and see them with their family,” he said. “That’s really what it is. I get goose bumps every time.”
This article is being published under an arrangement between the Globe and Emerson College.