Haw Contemporary, which filled a void when John O’Brien shut down his Dolphin gallery in the West Bottoms, is expanding into a Crossroads building that housed the Dolphin in its early years.
Haw Contemporary owner Bill Haw Jr. said in January that he had agreed to lease about 2,500 square feet on the east side of a building at 19th and Baltimore. The building, home to Kemper at the Crossroads from 2008 to 2017, is now owned by Kansas City civic leader Bill Lyons.
It’s not that Haw Contemporary is running out of space at its 20,000-square-foot West Bottoms building, which is located at 1600 Liberty St. “We’re fortunate to have way more space than most galleries have,” Haw said. “But I had been considering another property for a different type of exposure, closer to the Plaza.”
Haw is excited about expanding into space that served as one of the early domiciles of Dolphin, which the legendary John O’Brien launched as a Westport frame shop in 1989.
“Dolphin was considered by many to be kind of the epicenter of contemporary visual art in Kansas City,” Haw said. “It was a fantastic gallery. They were early pioneers in the Crossroads.”
But Dolphin was much more than a Crossroads Arts District pioneer, Haw said. “At a lot of galleries you’re going to feel a weird, uncomfortable exclusivity, or a lack of receptivity, to art kids or people who aren’t just going to come in and buy art. Dolphin was supportive of everybody who cared about art, and everybody felt like they owned a little piece of it, even people who were never going to be a client.”
O’Brien moved the Dolphin to the Liberty Street location in 2008 and operated there for five years. He sold the building to Haw, who opened Haw Contemporary there in August of 2013.
Haw knew he had big shoes to fill. “When John announced he was closing the Dolphin, people were really sad. They felt like it was the end of something special.”
But Haw was determined to carry on with the Dolphin spirit. “It’s this spirit of inclusiveness. It’s a community. There are many things we’ve been passionate about carrying over. We started out with a lot of the same artists, so we had a really great head start on this gallery being successful.”
Haw said he hoped to be operating at the 19th and Baltimore space by early March. It will be a satellite of Haw Contemporary and will share the name.
“We’re not going to alter the group of artists we work with,” Haw said. “Sometimes, depending on what feels right, an exhibition might be better suited to happen there. I want it to be a celebration of creativity. That might entail partnering for a month or two with some other entity in town that feels right and goes with what we do.”
But Haw emphasized that the new space “can be anything we want it to be. Don’t put it in a box. It’s going to tell us what it needs to be as time moves forward.”
Above: Gallery owner Bill Haw, pictured here at Haw Contemporary in the West Bottoms, is opening a Crossroads branch of the gallery in a building at 19th and Baltimore. (Haw Contemporary)