Deep Ellum's Kettle Art Gallery Will Close in May and Start Over in a New Neighborhood
"When I was younger, I had to choose between being a musician and being an artist. I chose artist: I wanted to be responsible for screwing myself up." -- Frank Campagna
By Pegalaurasrex Frank Campagna is taking Deep Ellum's Kettle Art gallery to a new 'hood.
When Frank Campagna, Kirk Hopper and a tidy pack of painters and photographers assembled Kettle Art in '05, they erected wooden gallery walls to protect an old advert, which still covers the building's original brick bones. The hidden message reads "Kettle Rendered Lard," and exists as a final vestige to the space's turn-of-the-century incarnation, the old Kettle dry goods store. The appropriated name was a symbolic nod, bridging the region's historical legacy with a percolating notion of change in the emerging arts scene. And now, almost a decade later, Kettle will permanently close its Deep Ellum doors and light up its sign elsewhere. Legacy be damned.
Road development approaches the Kettle's space, and its pending upheaval will coincide with the skinning and gutting of 2714 Elm Street. The new landlord, former SMU football player Chuck Hixson, is giving it a plumbing overhaul, which required early termination of tenants' leases, without renewal.
When the transformation is complete, the faces we've come to associate with the space will be gone. In fact, Kettle is now all that still remains in the corner property -- even Sunshine Store, the longest consecutive running retailer in Deep Ellum, and the gallery's suite mate, closed its doors last week after 15 years. Kettle will bolt the locks come May, but it ain't going down without a killer final season.
Eight years ago, the opportunities for emerging artists were not as vibrant as they are in 2013. Dallas lacked showrooms where local talent could refine their style and work towards launching a career.
Frank Campagna saw that.
He identified the chasm and he knew that an answer sat in Elm Street's vacant row of buildings. He wanted a place where the artists would represent themselves, and they'd run the space together. With nudging by Campagna's friend and soon-to-be landlord Don Cass, Frank took on the project. The rent was understandably small. And when they turned the lights on and filled the walls with work by local talent, people not only ventured into the discarded area; they flocked to it.
"For a long time, it was just us and occasionally DADA bringing folks in," says Frank. "Hell, we could float a keg in two hours."
That ridiculous assessment of success is not lost on Campagna - he's laughing as the words leave his mouth. To say that Kettle's business model is not an investor's top priority is generous; it operates on an entirely different structure and ethical foundation than what most consider "successful."
At Kettle, victory and financial gain have never been synonymous.
It's a thesis noticeable in all manors of Kettle's operations, from Frank's joy over the pocket change balance currently sitting in one of Kettle's bank accounts -- "We didn't overdraft or anything!" - to the variety of shows they choose to book.
Take last year's solo exhibition by Austin primitive artist Tim Kerr: It was a beautiful tribute to unsung Civil Rights leaders, early African American folk musicians and baseball players - it didn't make a dime. "Real art doesn't cover its ass," says Campagna, "but you have to have the integrity to show it."