Monday, September 3, 2007
Sally Piller faced a nagging dilemma. She and her husband, Lynn Piller, had just moved Richard's Music Co.-the downtown music store they own-into its new location, the storefront formerly occupied by defunct art gallery Olive.
The Pillers were still in a lease on the old location for Richard's, however, and Sally felt it would be a shame to abandon the uniquely situated space on the breezeway between New Hampshire and Massachusetts streets. Inspired by a variety of transitions in her life, including the death of her parents last year and her newfound status as an "empty nester," Sally decided it was time reinvent herself.
Being both a lifelong creator and collector of art, she set about completely gutting the old Richard's location and fashioning it into 6 Gallery, Lawrence's newest entry on the art scene. Piller has amassed over 50 Lawrence area artists and will exhibit them in a series of themed shows, the debut of which will be "Thresholds." She's aiming for a relaxed salon vibe with "6 Gallery," where both artists and the public can mingle, boosting Lawrence's creative community while hopefully selling some of what she calls "fine art you can live with in your home and love." We joined Sally Piller at 6 Gallery to discuss the impending opening, the death of Lawrence arts, and dogs playing poker.
lawrence.com: Do you ever feel guilty trying to turn a buck off of art? I always assumed fine art was above the petty, bourgeois considerations of commerce-aren't artists supposed to nobly starve and only be appreciated after they die?
Piller: Well, I won't be turning a buck. I'll be happy if I can make rent. I think the reason 6 Gallery will be something that lasts is because I don't have to depend on this for my income. My husband is in the heating and air conditioning business, so Richard's and 6 Gallery are more labors of love. I don't want to lose my shirt, but I'm confident I'll be able to sell enough of this excellent art to be able to keep this place going. I think it's a very hard thing financially for both the gallery owner and the artist. One thing I want to do is bring people in here and have panel discussions about the creative process so that the public has a little better understanding about what is behind the price tag of what's on the wall.
Does Lawrence need more art galleries or more art patronage?
We need more art patronage, for sure. A gallery is a pretty hard thing to sustain anywhere, not just in Lawrence. You'll see artists gather in big cities in warehouse districts with cheap rent, then before you know it, that place becomes gentrified because people like to come to all of these art shows. Then people start building nice places and the artist can't afford to be there anymore so they go to another part of town. I think that's going to happen in Kansas City at the Crossroads. I think Lawrence is small enough we can avoid that. I think we just need to worry about keeping downtown vital.
Could downtown Lawrence do a better job of fostering the art community?
Absolutely. I think downtown could be a little more progressive.
So you don't think City Hall is doing enough to develop Lawrence's "City of the Arts" image?
Definitely not. They haven't succeeded. They have to be willing to break a few rules. There's a lot more we can do to make Lawrence a vital and interesting place. I think challenging some preconceived notions of propriety-which sounds pretty highfalutin'-is something people should strive for.
Do you hope to push that envelope with 6 Gallery?
I'm hoping to start a little something, at least in the little breezeway outside. I think that is a place with tremendous potential. You have these big gray walls which are an attractive nuisance for tagging. I say, let's let 'em fill it. I think we should invite people to tag here. Let it be graffiti alley. Invite them into the fold. I think it would be incredible to see the creativity that would blossom here. I think we should string lights along the trees and make it a fun, vital place.
What are some of the themes you have planned for upcoming shows, and will one of them be animals playing card games?
I hope so. I really want to have an all animal show, and that might include dogs playing poker. I love those dogs. I think that's a work of genius. Some of the other themes will be "Water," "Delicious," "Activism and Dissent" for the upcoming election, "Horses"-the artists can approach these any way they want.
What's been the response from artists you've approached for 6 Gallery?
Overwhelmingly positive. In fact, they've been practically throwing themselves at me. People were a bit worried that there weren't enough galleries after Olive and Fields closed down. Galleries come and go, but I hope to keep this one open until I retire-and maybe even after I retire.
So have the reports of the demise of the Lawrence arts scene been greatly exaggerated?
Yeah, they have. You know, nobody ever really made a living being a local artist. People have to think outside of that. We have incredibly good local artists. They're all here, but they don't necessarily all show here. You have to do that. You can't just stay in your hometown, you have to show your work everywhere. We have so many talented artists here, though, and that's something I want the art-buying public to understand. When they go to New York or Los Angeles and buy art there, well, that's some guy that used to live in Lawrence, Kansas. You can get it a lot cheaper here. The art we have here is every bit as good.
In closing, is Thomas Kinkade the devil incarnate?
Yes. No doubt about it.