Kelly Jander understands why people might be wary of the art world, if only because they haven’t been properly introduced to it.
“I hear repeatedly that people are intimidated by the visual arts scene,” Jander says. “If they don’t speak the language, if they don’t have the educational background, sometimes people feel like they don’t know what to say or where to start.”
Jander’s suggestion: Start with Hello Art, a non-profit organization devoted to broadening active participation in the Kansas City art community.
As founding executive director of Hello Art, Jander has spent the last five years working with a dedicated team of volunteers and sponsors to break through cultural barriers that could otherwise prevent Kansas Citians from becoming art fans.
“Hello Art is going to give you some entry points,” Jander says. “We’re going to make introductions to artists and arts organizations, so you can feel comfortable. We say that Hello Art is a hand shake – a hand extended in welcome. It’s about connecting the artists and the audience.”
That audience is most visible during a teeming First Friday in the Crossroads Arts District, where monthly Hello Art trolley tours transport the group’s members to designated galleries and other spaces featuring a variety of visual artists and musical performers in an approachable atmosphere.
“If a First Friday artist sees someone wearing a Hello Art sticker, it’s an easy conversation starter,” Jander says. Such chats are essential to growing the local art community, she explains, because “once artists get beyond fellow artists and curators, who are they talking to about their work? Who are their audiences? Once they make the connection with the new audience, artists love it, because they feel like they can talk to people directly, now they can connect with ease. Their network expands exponentially.”
About 10 corporate sponsors provide key financial support to Hello Art.
“Our sponsors are amazing,” Jander said. “And they don’t just throw money at it. Part of their job is to bring 50 to 100 people to a First Friday event. That is how we connect with a whole bunch of new people, many of whom have never experienced a First Friday.”
Indeed, Jander views First Friday as the “gateway” to Hello Art and other scheduled activities. Those include museum curator talks and tours of art collections in people’s homes, as well as theater performances that incorporate backstage visits and post-show talkbacks.
The most meaningful opportunity for Hello Art members to connect with artists may come when visiting their private studios. Kansas City abstract painter Madeline Gallucci recently hosted such an event as the 2014-2015 Artist in Residence at the Hotel Phillips.
“Any sort of exhibition is going to be a polished thing, but a studio visit is much more intimate,” Gallucci says. “You’re seeing an artist’s inspiration. You’re seeing works in progress. You’re finding out why they do what they do. And it’s exciting for me, because I get to play a little bit of teacher.”
Hello Art studio visits also give artists a chance to sell their art, said David Oliver, president of the board of directors of Hello Art.
“We’re trying to help create an environment where people can discover an artist and really appreciate their vision,” Oliver said. “And you suddenly realize, ‘Hey, I can afford this piece of art’ so it’s really building a local marketplace for the community.”
“I’ve been working with the artists and telling them: ‘Don’t be afraid to put a price – and a visible price – on your artwork when we’re looking at it. Sometimes people are surprised that it is as expensive as it is. Sometimes they’re surprised that it is as affordable as it is. I’ve bought beautiful paintings for as little as $50 and for as much as $1,000.”
Jander agrees that working artists need to make money, but their success isn’t really about the immediate sell.
“Somebody might buy an artist’s work a year down the road, which happens all the time,” she says. “But with the help of Hello Art, artists are cultivating an audience and building long-term relationships.”