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.

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.

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."


basil 15 years, 2 months ago

A few of the older downtown businesses that seem to stay on forever are owned by people who own their buildings--and other buildings--or who are doing this as a side venture and just need to break even. They have a cushion (a bit of one, anyway; it finally wasn't enough for Fields). But I bet if you asked a number of the local businesses you love whether they're doing well enough to be confident they'll be open for another year or two, you'd be surprised. And I mean the ones you think are institutions. Just because your favorite place is busy on a sunny day or won Best Such-and-Such doesn't mean they're doing well.

If you love downtown Lawrence, you have to support the businesses. You can't shop online or at a chain store and expect your favorite place with atmosphere to hang around. You really can't. It takes your money, not just your good wishes, to support local business, and without local business, Lawrence will look like any other chain-store-ridden town.

Kelly Corcoran 15 years, 2 months ago

Here's the thread I'd like to see:

What Independently-owned Downtown Lawrence institutions are left standing that do NOT serve beer and/or food?

OK, now cross off places that focus on clothes sales.

Now eliminate coffee shops.

What's left?

smerdyakov 15 years, 2 months ago

Let's see, starting at Sixth street- Waxman Candles (amazing institution), Liberty, Raven, Game Guy, African Adorned, Astro Kitty, Raven. Seventh Street-Dusty Bookshelf, Richard's Music, Bayleaf... That's a lot already, in just 2 of 5 blocks, just off the top of my head

April Fleming 15 years, 2 months ago

Seems that the people who would be more open to moden art don't have the money for it around here, whereas the people in LA (not the cheapest place to live, obviously) more likely do.

I love me some Travis Millard, but a third of my annual income for a painting?

John Ralston 15 years, 2 months ago

Maybe the problem is that people have gotten into the habit of charging way too much for their tossed-off pastel drawing or silkscreened print. By making art expensive, artists are only conforming to--and affirming!--the idea that art is only for rich people.

shackleford 15 years, 2 months ago

Consider the Olive's closing a wake-up call. Basil (above) is absolutely correct: it takes more than wishes to keep your favorite business' doors open. It is a fact that some popular, longstanding local shops are not doing so hot for no other reason than the fact they are not getting paying customers through the door. Many of them are shops that lots of you love and would hate to see go, but it comes down to cold hard cash in the register. Smerdyakov: maybe you're not aware of how many businesses downtown remain open only by virtue of external support. Thanks for your time!

Jill Ensley 15 years, 2 months ago

NOOOOOOOO! Dammit. Eff this town.

And yes, while there are a few artists who don't follow the humble rules, the x3 rule, you can't blame the Olive's departure all on "the art is too expensive".

L.A.'s art scene is just that, a scene. We coulda been a contenda.

wilson 15 years, 2 months ago

That's a damn shame. The Olive was great for Lawrence.

Nick Spacek 15 years, 2 months ago

I think Kelly was asking what INSTITUTIONS are downtown still... the roll call of businesses that have bit the bullet since I moved to town ten years ago that had been here the previous ten kinda freaks me out.

Terra Nova, Alley Cat, etc.

Kelly Powell 15 years, 2 months ago

correct me if I am wrong....are you stating that lawrence MUST support a local business?.....if they do not carry objects or things the general populace will buy, why is that on the shoulders or said populace? would you buy food from a restaraunt that only served luke warm baby shit? maybe as a customer you expect more then semi-warm infant crap......why is this on the buyers shoulders?

Nate Poell 15 years, 2 months ago

Dang, they got the Olive. It was pretty OK. They had a nice (and no doubt expensive) location. My wife bought some supplies there once or twice. We went to see David Rees there. I think there are a couple solid reasons it failed. First of all, when you base your business model around exhibits like Dead Pets For Sale (http://www.lawrence.com/news/2004/oct...) -- which lawrence.com apparently forgot to put in that nice little "More about the Olive Gallery" sidebar -- what can you really expect? Second, a lot of people in Lawrence are doing their own thing artistically. There are a ton of people around here who paint, who draw, who just find their own way to be creative. Sorry, my wife and I don't need or want to spend $100 on a print an art student made because she makes cool collages for free and keeps a nature journal while I write crappy science fiction and make homebrew. We're easily entertained, but self-sufficient in that way, and we know many other people who fit the same mold.

And godjilla, I think you're joking, but the whole LA-Lawrence comparison is just ludicrous. Yeah, the LA metro area has an art scene; it also has about 9.4 million more people than Lawrence does. Go read "I Bought Andy Warhol" and then post on whether you really think Lawrence, KS could be a "contenda" in the art world (again, if you're not joking).

April Fleming 15 years, 2 months ago

Hey dear Jill K... unfortunately I just don't buy art supplies OR $10K... or $100 paintings. Not that the heart wasn't there. I'm glad you guys are liking LA!

scary_manilow 15 years, 2 months ago

I hate this. Seriously, it's like a punch in the gut. I've been saying for years that the whole "City of the Arts" tag was a load of shit-- and this just goes to prove it. RIP Olive, it was good while it lasted...

Kaw Pickinton 15 years, 2 months ago

Two words, "Pretentious Staff".

I love(ed?) The Olive but the people you had working there needed to come down off their horse before I would spend anymore money there.

You can blame us (Lawrence) for your failure but when your an ass to your clientele they tend to stop coming around. I hear thats how the whole free market thing works.

When you go to the media and accuse your customers or lack thereof on us rather than looking at what your doing wrong then I am glad to see you go, I just hope someone else comes along who is willing to look at what they do wrong and fix it rather than turn their nose up and blame their $h!tty attitude on the city and run.

I'm really sorry your going but the blame is all yours Olive, and this article proves it.

Nate Poell 15 years, 2 months ago

Now for a less civil comment.

(Oh Athena, Goddess nigh-almighty on Olympos, forgive me for what I'm about to say.)

The Olive done went pimentos up.

edie_ 15 years, 2 months ago

The City of the Arts indeed. The problem with Lawrence is that low rent folks can't afford the art and the high rent folks just buy Georgia O'Keefe prints that match their couches.

kcjameson 15 years, 2 months ago

maybe functional art is where it's at nowadays? i mean, if creative businesses such as those focused on fashion/art seem to thrive, what is to be said about the comparison of handmade bullshit on a wall or bullshit on a hand-made t-shirt? or hand-made water bottles that move around like water? everything seems to be digital now. maybe organic art needs to have more of a function...

k, besides that crap, i've never been able to afford the art i see at the galleries in KC, but the galleries are still there, year after year. why? cos there's a bunch of rich people in KC. poor people/students don't hold up the art scenes as patrons unless they pay for a ticket to get in to the event. am i right or wrong?

braden_quinn 15 years, 2 months ago

I agree with Jester. The number of businesses closing downtown is scary. I think with the Legends being this close the city council needs to offer some tax breaks or something for them.

I was actually shocked several didn't close earlier with the water line construction this summer. Totally screwed some of those guys I'm sure.

Roadkill_Rob 15 years, 2 months ago

I hate to see any business go under but to say Lawrence isn't an art town is a little ridiculous. Just b/c the art galleries close, doesn't mean this isn't an art town.

There are tons of artists in this town, and that's not including musicians. I just think it's a bad idea to have an art gallery downtown...sure, it's an ideal location in a perfect world, but the financial constraints of the business do not make it ideal. I think the best way to showcase your art is house parties or renting out a venue for a night or two. With the proper advertising and promos, I've seen this method work quite well.

latinlab 15 years, 2 months ago

Here's my experience with the Olive: I took an art class in the Lawrence Arts Center. I was ordered to buy paint (obviously I need that) and some brushes. The lady at the Olive offered me paint tubes for about $22 each. Now, as a person getting into painting I had no clue how much paint costs so I said "I'm just starting, can you give me something more affordable? I'll probably waste it painting my first canvas" Finally we got to the "cheaper" ones (supposedly the best for the price), which were like $12 a pop because they had nut oil. To sum up this beautiful day I spent $ 120 in 9 paint tubes. I didn't want to get them in Wal Mart but she offered no other option and said the teacher in the class probably preferred their paints. Of course the story changed when I went to NYC and saw good quality paint tubes in an art store for $5 a pop.

So yes your shows were great but the one chance you had to make me a loyal customer, you blew it. I think in my head I bought the paint to "support" the store so I wouldn't buy paint in Wal Mart or Hobby Lobby.

By the way, most art galleries are supported by large investments from rich artists like the Neue Gallerie in NYC. A tiny gallery of Austrian and German art with less than 10 Klimts and less than 5 Schiele paintings. Do you think they pay rent and the paintings with the money from the entrance? Another example is Exit Art in NY as well. They make money by charging at the door for art parties. That would have been a good move.

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