Artists’ Block: Local artists and vendors strive to revive the Kent art scene

Denise Wright

John Kluth shows a brush technique while displaying an example of Chinese brush painting that he recently finished. David Ranucci | Summer Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

VIEW a list of ways to support the local art scene and its artists.

Most Kent residents are probably familiar with his work — maybe without even knowing it.

Kenneth McGregor, a local artist, is responsible for creating the annual Kent visitor guides and even Kent State’s mascot, Flash the golden eagle.

“You’ve got my thumbprint on everything (in Kent),” McGregor said.

McGregor is one of many artists in Kent.

“As far as artists and creativity, Kent is a hot spot,” said Jeff Ingram, executive director of Standing Rock Cultural Arts. “There are a lot of ideas flowing.”

McGregor agreed.

“Artists wise, it’s huge,” McGregor said.

He said Kent isn’t so big with regard to customers.

“That’s the reason I’m doing what I do (publications and printing for local businesses) now,” he said.

McGregor said painting is one of his favorite art media, but he said he hasn’t had time to paint recently.

“You can’t rely on original art all the time,” he said. “That’s no way to make a living.”

With plenty of local competition, but a not-so-expanded consumer base, local artists and vendors are considering plausible causes and relevant remedies to the situation in which they’ve found themselves.

Plenty of supply, but little demand

John Kluth, owner of Open Space Art Gallery, said he opened his gallery because he thought Kent artists needed a good place to exhibit.

“That wasn’t the case,” Kluth said. “It’s not the artists, it’s the community.

“If you can’t get people to see the art, artists stay away. (They) start painting for places like New York City.”

Kluth said art designed for New York City is not relevant in Kent.

“It becomes this ongoing cycle,” he said.

But gallery owners and local artists have ideas for stopping this cycle.

“We need to make Kent more of a destination,” Ingram said. “By adding more galleries, coffee shops and bakeries, we could generate more pedestrian traffic.”

Ingram said if local galleries worked together, they could possibly create more consumer interest and activity.

While Kluth agreed, he also said communication to potential consumers is the key.

“What I have to do is elevate the understanding of art in Kent,” Kluth said.

He said people need to know that art can do things for them.

“If you surround yourself with happy pictures, you’ll be a happier person,” he said. “People need to realize they can change the quality of their lives by adding art.”

Down for the count or counting on a comeback?

Although vendors and artists tend to have the same ideas for building up the art scene in Kent, they differ in their ideas as to why it needs to be built back up.

“I think the May 4 incident shut down the creative powers of Kent, and I think they’re still shut,” Kluth said.

He said he strives to open these creative powers by displaying mostly Vietnamese art in his gallery.

“May 4 was about Vietnam, and I hope having these pieces from Vietnam will generate discussion,” Kluth said. “Maybe we’ll come to the point where we can deal with it.”

McGregor thinks the problem stemmed from a more short-term situation, such as changes in city government priorities and direction from the Kent State School of Art.

“In any case, it is getting better,” McGregor said. “There is hope. People like visual things – that doesn’t go away.”

Contact principal reporter Denise Wright at [email protected].