WESTFIELD, NJ — Gallery U Boutique celebrated its grand opening Sept. 26 at 439 South Ave. in the new building  where Clyne & Murphy Catering once stood.

More than just a fully functional art space and boutique, Gallery U Boutique is an extension of Universal Institute, a rehabilitation facility that services adults with traumatic brain injuries (TBI). The venue serves as a vocational training program with a goal of introducing people with TBI back into the work force and community.

“We started out as a traditional rehabilitation center in Livingston,” explained Lisa Lasso, vice-president and chief financial officer of Universal Institute. “More and more clients wanted to work and feel good about themselves and be out in the community.”

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Clients at Universal Institute, many of whom are now moving into the apartments upstairs from the gallery, take part in all aspects of running Gallery U Boutique, including event promotion, inventory, completing transactions, customer service, social media and more. In addition, vocational therapy is conducted in the gallery’s workrooms. Working at Gallery U Boutique provides an opportunity for clients to rejoin the work force, engage with the community, learn new skills and experience the transformative power of art through exposure to existing art and creation of their own artwork.

This new location is a combination of former locations in Red Bank and Montclair and allows Universal Institute to expand its mission to and service more TBI clients than ever before.

Unique handcrafted jewelry, clothing, childrens' items, pet merchandise, home goods, stationery and art—some produced by clients through the Universal Institute therapy programs—are available for sale. The boutique carries collections by Alexis Bittar, Stephanie Johnson, Pomeroy, Shiraleah and Roost.

At the grand opening, Executive Director Robert Greco told The Alternative Press of Westfield, “I think the turnout is wonderful. I think that Westfield has been amazingly gracious and very supportive.”

“The response has been phenomenal. The people have been great,” agreed Lasso. “It’s very exciting.”

Local businesses, including San Marzano Pasta Bar and Ana Beall’s Tea Room, donated desserts for the event, and the boutique purchased treats from Bovella’s Pastry Shoppe, Crumbs and Carlo’s Bakery to serve, as well.

The boutique will hold monthly group art exhibits that highlight the talents of local artists, both established and emerging. Receptions will be open to the public. In addition, Gallery U Boutique plans to hold music performances, a monthly poetry reading series and other free events.

Gallery U Boutique aims to take an active role in the Westfield and surrounding communities by collaborating with local businesses, non-profit organizations, schools, libraries, creative arts programs, community programs and others. The space is also available to rent for private parties, solo art exhibits and meetings, as well.

For more information on collaboration with or renting Gallery U Boutique, contact Gallery Manager Robert Langdon at rlangdongalleryu@gmail.com. For merchandise and general inquiries, email galleryuwestfield@gmail.com. Find out more about Gallery U at http://gallery-u.blogspot.com.