Recently I sat down with two members of the soon-to-be-built West Bottoms gallery, 50/50. Founder and Curator Cambria Potter and Curator Hannah Lodwick are both young women, visual artists, curators, and entrepreneurs active in community outreach. I wanted to get more information about what they are doing and how this project will move forward.
Melaney Mitchell: The name 50/50, where did it come from?
Cambria Potter: Originally we came up with the idea of showing half local and half national artists. With that we also knew that this would be a group effort relying on more than just one entity, and instead emphasizing collaboration. We kept calling it 50/50 and it evolved into not only the concept of the space but the name. With four equivalent programming platforms featuring national and local artists.
Hannah Lodwick: The name also plays into almost everything. The building is two shipping containers side-by-side, it will appear as two things becoming one. Our exhibitions are complemented by our digital archive, our lecture series complemented by billboard series.
Cambria Potter: With our mission of broadening Kansas City’s art audience, 50/50 made sense as well in answering a question of “how do we make this digestible?” If you don’t have the art vocabulary, knowing there will be local and national artists present as well as more than one person behind the whole thing it makes it more digestible and easy to understand
Why the west bottoms?
HL: I feel like the West Bottoms is a really important area as far as architecture and urban planning because it is a largely commercial vacant area with unused property. We feel as far as 50/50 goes, it’s important to activate unused urban space. In the West Bottoms, space is plentiful for us to inhabit a lot that is normally used once a year for American Royal parking. The secondary answer to that is the West Bottoms is an important arts district in Kansas City. They are really at a tipping point with the addition of Bill Brady, Bill Haw, and Plug Projects. With one more gallery down there, it can become more of a destination and a hub I think thats important for us as a gallery.
CP: The west bottoms being more desolate is really important in the use of shipping containers – that is not arbitrary- if you visit the West Bottoms that is something you will see on the railroads, sitting on lots, etc. While we’re activating the lot it doesn’t go against the already existing landscape.
MM: West bottoms vs. The Crossroads: Why do you think there is a movement away from the Crossroads and into the West Bottoms?
HL: I wouldn’t say there is a movement away from the crossroads, they are just two separate districts. They both aren’t fully realized and great institutions like Arts KC are moving down there and I think it has a lot to offer and is a great neighborhood. Most great art cities have multiple voices and neighborhoods, the West Bottoms just adds a complementary perspective. The crossroads is great as they promote First Fridays and they incorporate more performers, and other arts related events like the 18th street fashion show. The West Bottoms currently is a little more streamlined toward visual art.
CP: I don’t have too much to add, but as an observer and an artist in Kansas city one can look at property values in the crossroads. It has sprawled, grown and become a very rich art’s community, thus rent has gone up. That cost may be less feasible for younger emerging artists and curators to get space there.
MM: What makes kc different from other arts communities in other cities that you’ve been in?
CP: One of the reasons 50/50 was conceived, Kansas City is overwhelmingly supportive of local startups and entrepreneurs. Our arts community is very diverse and I think that being an outsider from Texas is big deal. I have been here going on 7 years and it doesn’t phase anyone that I’m not from here, instead I am given same support as a local. For me, there isn’t as much of an attitude of walking over each other and competitiveness that seems to exist on the coasts. Instead its an attitude of how can we better serve one another
HL: Kansas City is also up and coming, less associated with the arts and being a small city, property values are low and we can take advantage of our resources here. The task of starting a gallery here is so much more financially accessible.
MM: What made you want to stay in Kansas City?
HL: For me, there was no other option, I didn’t consider moving or going away. Kansas City is the city I want to be in for the arts. Similarly to the Crossroads being different from the West Bottoms, there are different areas residentially that are growing. I moved out of midtown to the northeast and to me, it is a truer, more genuine part of the city. While I did stay in Kansas City moving neighborhoods was important to me.
CP: I’m here for a long haul too. I love Kansas City, I moved here from Texas and I think aside from the arts community and embracing whats here and what I’m doing, there are a lot of great people in Kansas City and my motivation to stay is I am invested.
MM: What kind of work are you hoping to show?
HL: As far as our mission goes, it’s important for us to show a diverse arts constituency. I don’t think were going to continue to show just one medium, were going to try and hit the whole gamut; people painting, sculpting, new media artists etc. It is important for us to show young, to emerging, and mid career artists. As far as exhibition voices go we’re going to be at the younger end of the spectrum. We’re not interested in showing already established local and national artists who are constantly showing. Instead were interested in those artists who have not been exhibited and who are not currently given opportunities.
CP: Not only that but it’s important to not pigeonhole emerging as young. There are plenty of people emerging at all points in their lives. Additionally we want to have a strong relationship with artists we show, were are going to ask them to push the envelope with how they want to utilize our space and the artists they’re engaging with while they’re showing with us.
HL: Our first exhibition Cohost talks about that as well
MM: What is that first exhibition going to be?
CP: Cohost will be a great way for us to showcase what 50/50 is all about. It will be an annual reoccurring show. As we are 50/50, we will always have one local and one national artist. The theme of this show is about highlighting the half digital / half physical representation of art and artists.
HL: Our first exhibition falls within the framework of Cohost which is reoccurring. This January we will be exhibiting Kristin Walsh, she is a New York and North Carolina based artist and a recent graduate. Her work is installation based work acrylic mirrored forms, that are physical, with videos of google street view projected onto it. It is important for us in this first exhibition to really portray what we are about. Once we pin down our local artist, both will be using digital and physical forms simultaneously. Our exhibitions are our physical manifestation of the work, for a local audience who can easily access the show. What is also important for us is being relevant on a national scale. The digital archive will document the exhibition, show our research and articles related to the exhibition, that are both art and not art related. This is where we hope our national audience will be reached.
MM: Why shipping containers?
CP: Originally with this idea our business plan was how can we create a sustainable model so our community can rely on us to be around. That way it doesn’t have to be so hard as a young person starting something new. Shipping containers have been something we had been interested in for awhile as an alternative building material. As far as building something that is physically sustainable its going to be a really good way for us to not have the utility bills and annual overhead other galleries have to deal with. Alternative energy will
allow us to eliminate the need for an electric bill.
HL: In addition, it mimics the west bottoms neighborhood currently. Its a heavily industrialized area currently with railroads intersecting and I think its important for us to reflect that. Kansas City has a great arts community, which is a known fact now. Each gallery has a different voice or space, like SUB for instance, challenging the notion of white cube in a residential space. However there isn’t an alternative outside an already created building represented currently in Kansas City. We hope this can be a model for other shipping container gallery projects.
MM: In terms of the shipping container and logistics – solar power – will that power heat, a restroom, and ventilation?
CP: Yes, in terms of what we plan to use in the space, and an HVAC system will all be generated on solar energy. We won’t need a bathroom as far as our classification goes with codes, due to the small square footage.
HL: We also want to focus on making the West Bottoms a destination. Gallery goers were piggybacking off of many different gallery openings on Third Friday, it isn’t about us as a singular destination. Like what Vladimir was saying in our Kickstarter video – its not building that creates community, its bringing people and events to the area. We are a hub and in a larger conversation with the galleries around us.
MM: Are you hoping to sync up with Third Fridays?
CP: Right now, for the first year we have Second Fridays allotted, but that is something we have discussed with Haw/Contemporary and Plug Projects.
MM: How will you be modifying the shipping containers? Will you have natural light in the gallery, modifying the containers?
HL: There will be natural light. It is two side-by-side containers. There is an inset for a glass door entrance and exit. In addition to the natural light we plan to have fluorescent and spot lighting as well.
MM: Will these be two different rooms or will they be connected? Is your curatorial mission to have exhibitions separated by the architecture?
CP: I think the icon of two shipping containers relates to the theme of 50/50 but what happens inside will challenge and blur the lines of how the artwork is displayed. The curation will change per exhibition
HL: It’s also important for us to bring local and national not as a divisive measure but instead as a unifying and cross collaborative measure.
MM: Are you working with an architecture firm to build?
CP: We’ve collaborated with Kansas City Design Center – which is six architecture students who recently graduated from KU or K-State. They completed the design of the space and a handful have stayed on to see through construction and assist with that. We are working with them on construction timeline now as August is our tentative date for having the containers dropped.
HL: I think it’s important for us to promote emerging people like us who haven’t been exposed yet. The KCDC are people that have masters degrees but haven’t seen a space into fruition so were able to help them with that. While we each have have curatorial experience this is the first independent project doing that so its exciting. Brigade who produced our video is yet another startup taking risks to do things on their own that we want to support.
MM: What is the plan for sustainability and why is that important?
CP: As far as sustainability goes I have had a lot of people say “sustainable, oh that’s trendy” but no, it’s smart. You have to consider how what you’re doing is going to impact your community and your environment. For us, since were making a commitment to Kansas City and national audiences to stick around and be a gallery to facilitate new conversations and reach new audiences. We want to reach outside of those communities already coming to arts events, open it up so it is digestible for people who don’t feel comfortable looking at artwork. We want them to know this hasn’t been done by the seat of our pants if they’re committed to us we’ll have something in the future, as we won’t have to deal with the same financial problems.
HL: It is also a devise too for us to be able to not worry about rent or utilities 80 % of budget goes right toward artists. The sustainability is a tool to support the arts for a longer time.
CP: Containers also have a 15-20 year lifespan, they’re weather and fire proof. It makes the construction a bit easier.
MM: Tell me more about the digital archive, do you think this is a model other galleries can follow?
HL: Well we’re already following a model that has been set. We are following a more institutional archive situation. The New Museum and the MOMA have fabulous archives and Charlotte Street had the frontier archive of 2012. While these larger institutions have done archives it hasn’t been done on a smaller gallery scale. Also for us, its about building an archive and working with the community to have response and make it as active as possible. We have talked about things like forums, qr codes, q and a’s, maybe even a wiki page format to make it as active as possible on a national and local scale.
CP: One of the first conversations we had was regarding online presence. The internet at large is one of the biggest ways of communicating with your audience. Lets look at other spaces we admire – what are they doing well with online presence in general we wanted to push the envelope and be more than just a process blog. We wanted to supply our audiences with more information and give them the opportunity to contribute- that way it becomes a dialogue.
HL: Our mission is to activate art audiences that are less comfortable with the arts. A lot of times people will come to an opening and ask “What does that mean” We hope that we can be less linear supply them with the archive. It gives people the tools to learn more about art and allows them to make discoveries.
CP: It’s a lot less formal. Some people are introverted and want to approach something that’s less intimidating. they can approach larger topics without a one on one in person discussion.
MM: How is the digital archive being built?
HL: It will be built and hosted through collective access- a cataloging system for museums. That is spearheaded through Becca May our Programmer and Linux Administrator. It will be built as a server, that were ready to order and it can host 100 people at a time – with room for expansion. As far as reaching national audiences, that will be on our marketing end. Kelly Lopez our digital marketer is trying to configure times of day and hash-tags and national scalability
CP: Our strategy to reach a larger audience is Kickstarter, its all about community outreach and the larger internet ether of supporters. When you start something is smart to consider who is the audience, everyone needs to be on board from the beginning. Were hoping we will tell people what were doing and those who are interested will be there to support us.
MM: How do you envision audience interaction?
HL: it allows for a lot of different types of interaction as its not just going to be a feed, there will be several different types of interaction and it allows for a multiplicity in participation. As long as its a platform for research and learning, it would be great.
CP: The model were using will morph into the what the users want it to be. The archive is one of the more flexible programming that we have that is accessible for contribution content and more bundled into one. My goal is that its activated, that people use it.
MM: Coming from the idea of the archive, what is the importance of accessibility/transparency in curatorial practice?
CP: For me my background comes from the working within the community for Kansas City Art Institute. I work for the continuing education department doing community outreach arm of the college. I am in a setting where i am having to articulate larger art concepts in a way that people can understand them. As far as reaching new audiences there are a lot of people who will say “i don’t get it” whether its a museum or elsewhere. For me new audiences becomes an important personal goal to be welcoming, through accessibility
HL: Non-forced ways of participation are important to us. We are open to other communities but are by no means forcing their participation I think that the arts function best when they are activating people who normally feel excluded from the arts. We want to be an open arm establishment to help others understand art
CP: And as our lectures evolve there are opportunities to facilitate new audiences through who we bring in to speak, and who we bring in to moderate.
HL: You’ll see that also in our exhibitions to come next year. There are non art opportunities were going to take advantage things associated as non art or not created by an artist
MM: Will you be using your rocket grant funds also to fund the Gallery?
CP: The rocket grant proposal in general was half and half – so building and construction and the other half is reserved for programming artist stipends and etc. The Kickstarter, is for the bigger picture we need the money upfront in order to secure things, solar panels etc to get the building constructed. $10,000 to build a building sounds crazy – what we’ve had donated, and what were going to choose to buy, we will be doing most work ourselves but things like electrical or other nitty gritty things. 80% of our budget going to artists, and this crowd funding will afford us a clean start. Then we will publish a book of the digital archive annually to raise our programming funds. With the rocket grant its important as artists in the community to reach out and let them know what you’re doing and the support of those organizations vote of confidence you need for others to see you
MM: With the digital archive book what is most important?
HL: Its important for us to remain accessible, while we may sell a physical copy of the book, the information -as the online archive- will not go away. The book is a way to say “I support 50/50” It is a different relationship between something endlessly scroll-able, versus something that exists between two covers.
CP: Also if you’re a member who participates in the archive, the book as a curated form of the archive, will reinforce the online community we work to develop. It is exciting that it will function as a physical copy of the work culminating in the past year.
50/50 is currently in the midst of crowd funding this project through Kickstarter. To support this project and help them reach their goal, visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/5050kc/50-50-kc and become a backer. To find out more information about 50/50 you can visit their website at http://www.5050kc.com/