Archive for Friday, November 17, 2006

Sluggish sales spell the pits for Olive Gallery

Gallery’s plans to fold in late February cap string of art venue closings

Olive co-owners Bailey Kivett (left) and Jill Kleinhans in a photo taken just before the gallery opened in 2003.

Olive co-owners Bailey Kivett (left) and Jill Kleinhans in a photo taken just before the gallery opened in 2003.

November 17, 2006

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When Olive Gallery and Art Supply opened in April 2003, the young owners envisioned a home for emerging artists and cutting-edge work.

"We wanted to show Lawrence something new and something different from the other art venues in town," owner Jill Kleinhans says. "We wanted to make art accessible for everyone."

For three and a half years, the gallery has done just that from its quirky roost at 15 E. Eighth St., showcasing work by up-and-coming artists while selling art supplies and handmade goods.

But despite their best efforts, Kleinhans and her staff aren't making enough money to sustain the Olive. A "For Lease" sign will appear in the store's window any day, and the doors will close for good on Feb. 28, unless someone new is willing to buy and revive the business.

Co-manager Jon Allen says the closing represents a personal loss for him.

"But on a larger scale, it will be a big blow to Lawrence," says Allen, who has been running the Olive with co-manager Janie Hammerschmidt since Kleinhans moved to Los Angeles this fall. "Places like the Olive are a huge part of what makes Lawrence unique compared to other towns across the Midwest."

The Olive's demise marks the latest in a string of Lawrence gallery closings in the past few years. Other casualties have been the Grimshaw Gallery, ad astra galleria, KOJO and Fields. The trend makes Kleinhans wonder how Lawrence earned its reputation as the "City of the Arts" (read related story).

"I'm not buying it because the people certainly aren't buying," she says. "Talk is cheap. Attending art openings for the free wine and cookies does not constitute support of the art scene. It costs money to have a thriving arts scene. Lawrence just isn't ready to fit the bill."

Jon Allen, a co-manager at Olive Gallery and Art Supply, 15 E. Eighth St., adjusts pieces in a Justin Marable exhibit  Monday afternoon. The gallery is set to close at the end of February due to poor sales.

Jon Allen, a co-manager at Olive Gallery and Art Supply, 15 E. Eighth St., adjusts pieces in a Justin Marable exhibit Monday afternoon. The gallery is set to close at the end of February due to poor sales.

On the other hand, she says, the gallery business is difficult everywhere.

"Art is a tough sale, especially in post-9/11 times," she says. "Art is too often viewed not as a necessity, but as a luxury."

A good start

The Olive has played host to about 45 exhibitions by Lawrence and area artists, most of them young and new to the scene.

Paul Flinders is among them. His January 2005 show, "a bird i wish i were," was the Kansas University student's first solo exhibition. Since then, he has had another show at the Olive, and in October he made his Kansas City debut at the Apex Gallery.

"The Olive has played a large role in the development of my artistic career," Flinders says. "They went far beyond hanging my work in the space. They brought my work to the people in a way that I couldn't. They worked hard to spread the word. They carefully choreographed my work into the space so that it flowed seamlessly. They introduced me to the Lawrence art crowd and other Lawrence artists."

The gallery rotates in new shows monthly, with opening receptions on the first Saturday of the month. Those receptions rarely fail to expand into all-out parties, complete with live music and patrons spilling out the front door.

"Some people absolutely love us, and we have them to thank for surviving this long," Kleinhans says. "We were voted Best Gallery by the readers of Lawrence.com for three years in a row. But others just don't get us."

Love for the Olive

When Kleinhans and friend Bailey Kivett opened the Olive in 2003, they thought their business plan was foolproof. They'd offer contemporary artwork that they considered a little edgier than the usual fare at Lawrence galleries, and rely on sales of handmade consignment goods and discounted art supplies as steady income.

Both owners were 22 at the time and still KU art students. In order to open the business, they got funding from a friend of Kivett's family, Halstead emergency room doctor and painter Gene Marsh. (Kivett moved on a few years ago, but Marsh still co-owns the business with Kleinhans.)

Although the opening receptions always have been packed - and some artists' work has sold better than others - sales just never gained enough momentum to cover the expense of running the gallery.

"We absolutely loved what we do, but when the bottom line comes into play, it's just not cutting it," Kleinhans says. "Everybody can love us, but they need to show us a little more."

The gallery has scheduled its final three exhibitions: a group show in December, work by Andrew Hadle in January and a Josh Adams exhibit in February.

Kleinhans says the spirit of the Olive will live on with her.

"I plan to start up something 'Olivesque' out here in LA within a few years," she says. "It seems like this art community is a little more well-supported."

Comments

classclown 8 years, 8 months ago

"But on a larger scale, it will be a big blow to Lawrence,"

Apparently not. If no one is buying it, then no one will miss it.


"Art is too often viewed not as a necessity, but as a luxury."

When has art ever been anything but a luxery? Not to mention being a necessity.


"Talk is cheap. Attending art openings for the free wine and cookies does not constitute support of the art scene."

ding ding ding ding ding!

sunflower_sue 8 years, 8 months ago

I just found out about this gallery last week. Too bad. I will make it a point to go in sometime soon. I think the location played a factor for me in that I rarely drive down the side streets.

Classclown, for me, art IS a necessity. I simply would not want to do w/out it. I think even you would be surprised at your world if all art were removed. Look around you. Graphic design is even on your food labels. (And yes, that's art, too...as well as music). Try to do w/out those and try to never give a child a pack of crayons. Sad!

The Bizarre Bazaar is next Saturday at the Arts Center. Give it a try. You may just enjoy it.

Ken Miller 8 years, 8 months ago

I've never heard of the place and I've been here since 1990. Be that as it may, I'm still sorry that OGAS is apparently leaving.

I wonder if they ever did anything with the local elementary schools, in order to get the word out that they exist. When my daughter gets excited about events/projects, it certainly comes to my attention.

bankboy119 8 years, 8 months ago

I've never heard of it and I was in Lawrence for a long time.

It's sad whenever a business closes down but I have to agree with classclown that this will not be a "big blow."

Scenebooster, art is a luxury, that's why as cultures develop art comes in at the end. In order for a culture to survive and thrive art is a necessity but you need to take a look at what stage the "larryville" culture is at. It is still developing economically and until there is more money to be spent on art there is no way to support it. That is exactly why they are planning to start something out in LA. There is money there to support it.

MyName 8 years, 8 months ago

I've heard of it, and I even know some of the people who work there. It stinks that they have to close down, because there was some pretty neat stuff going on. However, art is probably one of the first things to get the boot if things go a little sour economically. Even if it is a necessity for some people, it still ranks below food, clothing, shelter and transportation.

dlkrm 8 years, 8 months ago

There is plenty of great art in Lawrence that can be enjoyed rather inexpensively or for free, especially music and other performing arts. Paying high prices for paintings by people I've never heard of doesn't rank high with me, especially when college tuition keeps going up at 3 times the rate of inflation. Maybe we should blame the KU administration for the lack of disposable income in Lawrence.

bankboy119 8 years, 8 months ago

Actually it is. If you graduated high school I'm sure at some point you went through a class that taught how civilizations and their culture develop....I believe that class was called history?

PatrickJoseph 8 years, 8 months ago

I'm sorry to see the Olive go.

It is (until February) a great place to see local and ex-local artists work like Kristen Ferrell, Hammerpress, Justin Marable, or Travis Millard. It's also been a gallery that gave artists who aren't exactly established a place to show their work, and it's been pretty selfless with helping the past Red Balloon to Do's.

I'll miss it. Thanks to the Olive and its staff for all its past hard work.

baykivo 8 years, 8 months ago

I helped open the Olive in 2003. The Olive truly is a loss to the community. Just because not enough people were able or willing to buy art and supplies, doesn't mean it wasn't an important part of the Lawrence Art Community. I certainly appreciated those people that made efforts to see shows and buy what they could. The art shown wasn't always something that you would want to hang in your home (I could say the same for a good deal of contemporary art), but it was interesting, and different than the art you would see anywhere else in town. Stuffed road kill, shot up self-portraits, woven hair.... that was brought to you by the Olive. It was always exciting to see what was going on those green walls. They also had Kid's Corner shows, performance art and film nights, and week long shows...all giving as many artists as possible a chance to get their art shown. Gene was a generous man to allow for that to happen for 3 years. Jill and I worked hard (and recruited as many friends and family as possible) to bring the Olive to Lawrence. Jill and the great employees of the Olive kept things exciting and continue to work at doing that. If you have never heard of the Olive, you should go there. Look at all it has to offer.... make these last few months great ones. On this random blog I want to say thank you to the loyal customers, well-wishers, employees, Jill, Gene, the artists, and all my friends that painted things green day in and day out back in March 2003.

leslie 8 years, 8 months ago

This is sad news. Olive definitely filled a niche in Lawrence that wasn't covered anywhere else in town. Jill et al. have done a wonderful job showing vibrant, relevant, yet still accessible, art. Thanks, everyone involved, for all of your hard work.

pagan_idolator 8 years, 8 months ago

I too liked the Olive. But I have to respond to something in the article. The line about the free wine and cookies. Listen, I am probably going to come off as a snob, but please don't serve COOKIES with wine! What happened to the art of Hors D'Ouevres (spelling?) Alcohol and sweet things just don't mix unless its a really expensive bar of dark chocolate or chocolate covered fruit. And how do you know they were just there for free wine and cookies? Maybe they found a piece they liked but couldnt afford it and are still plotting about how to buy it! I only own one piece of real art. It is one of Glenda Rolle's "Dear Mother" pieces. I am sure I drove her nuts trying to get this thing paid off. Sadly, the rest of that collection was destroyed by the fire at our store - 9th Path. Know what she said when we broke the news of approx. 7 of her pieces getting destroyed? "Thats okay - I will make more". What a great lady!!

abe_froman 8 years, 8 months ago

I think the Olive is the bee's knees. This is a real shame and it is an unfortunate loss for the community.

As for cookies and wine comment ... Pagan, yes, you are a snob.

Emily Hadley 8 years, 8 months ago

I recommend, to everyone posting here saying they had never heard of the Olive, get off your computer and go downtown, for goodness sake!!!

The Olive is on the same tiny block as the Tap Room, Bodyworks, Henry's, Sunflower Bike, the Sandbar,the Mirth cafe, Teller's, and whatever the old Sakaroff's salon is now called.

Maybe after you're done perusing the ljworld.com, if you still can't manage to leave the house, surf over to lawrence.com and see all the cultural enrichment being offered right here in our own little town.

The Olive has showcased so many events and artists, sponsored kids' art projects, called for public submissions for seasonally-themed art shows, and they were basically the headquarters of the "Red Balloon to Do" annual multi-venue art event. Their events come up in Lawrence.com's events weekly, if not daily, and have often had articles and interviews accompanying their art openings.

The coolest thing about the Olive (for me) is that they also sell art supplies, for which many people would otherwise have to either scrounge from college bookstores' limited offferings or drive to Westport. I don't know how many times I had to drive to Keith Coldsnow to get one small thing and wondered how other Lawrencians get by.

Your dollar is your vote, for sure, and shopping downtown is definitely more fun than going anywhere else in Lawrence. Anyone who thinks otherwise probably hasn't been downtown lately.

pagan_idolator 8 years, 8 months ago

Abe Froman - I humbly apologize for being a food snob and at my next event I will try to make myself serve cookies as an hors d'ouerve as atonement. ; )

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