The Olive ripe for filling hip downtown gallery niche

Kermit the Frog once lamented, "It's not easy being green."

But Kansas University art students Jill Kleinhans and Bailey Kivett say they're ripe for the challenge.


Thad Allender/Journal-World Photo

Olive Gallery and Art Supply owners Bailey Kivett, left, and Jill Kleinhans, both Kansas University art students, hope their new business at 15 E. Eighth St. appeals to local artists.

On Saturday, the duo is opening Olive Gallery and Art Supply in downtown Lawrence. Since occupying the vacant space at 15 E. Eighth St., the business partners have painted three shades of green on the walls, furniture and facade -- the gallery's couch came ready from the thrift store with swirls of chartreuse, lime and celery -- and lined up the gallery's first exhibition: a show replete with olive-inspired art.

The environs aren't the only thing green.

Kleinhans and Kivett are both 22 and still in school; neither has run a business before.

"Things are coming along," Kleinhans said last week. "It's been a bumpy start, but we're rolling with the punches."

Besides, they're sure their business plan is foolproof.

The 1,000-square-foot Olive will showcase what Kleinhans and Kivett call "fresh" art, contemporary pieces that are a little edgier than work featured in most Lawrence galleries. Some of the work won't even be salable -- they hope to be a venue for the occasional performance art piece or video installation.

Kleinhans and Kivett expect sales of handmade consignment goods and art supplies to keep the gallery afloat. They'll stock all the items a college art student -- or any local artist -- might need and offer them 10 to 15 percent cheaper than Jayhawk Bookstore and Hobby Lobby. They'll be open until 10 p.m. every day.

"We wanted people to be able to buy art supplies whenever they need them," Kivett said. "And while you're buying your art supplies, you'll get a chance to see what's going on in the art world."

A different flavor

As art students at KU and instructors at the Lawrence Arts Center, Kleinhans and Kivett see firsthand what's going on the art world. But they hadn't seen a representative range of work displayed at Lawrence galleries.

Wanting to fill the "edgy" niche, they contacted a friend of Kivett's family, Halstead emergency room doctor and painter Gene Marsh, who decided their vision was a worthy one and agreed to fund the business.

"It's happened so fast," said Kleinhans, who studies painting and creative writing at KU. "One day we just decided that we need this here in Lawrence. We want to do it; we can. The next day we were calling places to look at locations. I believe we signed a lease like a week or two after we started looking.

"We really thought that we needed this kind of gallery. We're not completely separate (from the other galleries), but we are a different flavor."

No kidding. Olive-hued walls are pretty unorthodox in the gallery world, where bright white is the norm.

"We are aware that they may turn off some artists, but we're willing to take that risk because we feel like we will have enough student artists who won't care if it's green," Kleinhans said. "We're always willing to paint big white squares if people need it and their work is absolutely amazing."

Dismantling intimidation

Kleinhans and Kivett settled on the name Olive after agreeing they wanted to use a color but disagreeing on which one: Kleinhans thought ochre; Kivett thought periwinkle.

"I think it sets us off as a crazy, quirky, fun place," Kleinhans said. "We just really want it to be fun and homey. We don't take the white walls so seriously. We really, really want to break down that elitist air that art tends to have. It scares the hell out of my boyfriend. He doesn't like to go into galleries because they're intimidating to a lot of people. Our non-art friends really inspired us to bring art to those kinds of people."

But don't misread their laid-back approach. The gallery, with its ample space, towering walls and track lighting, will provide a respectable atmosphere for artists to display their work. The gallery will rotate shows monthly and hold opening receptions the first Saturday of each month.

The first reception will be from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday. World-renowned marimba player Michael Overman will perform throughout the evening and martinis -- with olives, of course -- will be served.

The next show will feature paintings by husband-wife duo Scott and Victoria Garrette.

Kleinhans and Kivett say they're excited by what seems to be a growing interest in art and galleries in Lawrence. In the past several months, two new venues have opened downtown: the Grimshaw Gallery, which houses about a dozen artists' studios behind its display space at 731 N.H., and the Signs of Life gallery, upstairs from the Signs of Life espresso bar and bookstore at 722 Mass.

"The galleries have been popping up like mad since we started this project," said Kivett, who's double majoring in jewelry and metalsmithing and visual art education at KU. "Hopefully, we'll have like a little art district over here. That's what it's kind of starting to feel like. I think that's something that Lawrence really needs.

"The more the merrier is kind of what we were thinking."


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