ARTS: Young, hip, Burns Court art galleries
Published September 22, 2011
Published: Monday, April 2, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 8:00 a.m.
An underground art boom - younger, fresher and more forward-thinking than Sarasota has seen - brews in downtown's Burns Court Historic District.
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It's Jean-Michel Basquiat meets Keith Haring with a New York City street culture vibe. Entrepreneurial twentysomethings and college students are spray-painting graffiti murals on white walls and overtaking vacant storefronts. They're launching popup galleries and generating traffic in the slow economic season via small, ambitious exhibits.
Spectators, from teenagers to elders, are glimpsing (and buying) the work of emerging artists. There are no red carpets or velvet ropes at these grassroots events, and with each gathering, the elitist clouds looming over the city's art scene are evaporating.
"There's synergy among local artists and Ringling students that's escalating into new territory and creating a contemporary art revival," said Van Jazmin, the promoter for the exhibits who studies arts management at Ringling College of Art and Design. "The Herald Square area in Burns Court is becoming a magnet for young creatives."
Jazmin, business owner Austin Kowal and Ringling student Brett Lindstrom spearheaded the movement. Their goals were championed during the YPG SUM+ Annual Conference at the Hyatt in mid-June. There, area visionaries engaged in breakout sessions to discuss downtown economic development, the role of local colleges and how to drive tourism. Jazmin and his crew's idea: Bring the art to the masses.
"At the end of the conference, we decided on six ways to make Sarasota a truly creative economy. One idea was to turn empty spaces into art spaces during the summer, when many places shut down," Jazmin said. "Herald Square was a perfect example."
Kowal, the 25-year-old proprietor of the Burns Court commercial screen-printing company, Clothesline Boutique and Gallery (where the founders of the indie ZIGZAG Magazine often meet and brainstorm), had an advantage.
His mother, Denise Kowal, chair of the Sarasota Chalk Festival, has owned a block of seven stores in Herald Square since 1986. When two shops shut down due to inactivity in the off-months, Austin Kowal hired Lindstrom to transform them into galleries. The undertaking would be Lindstrom's internship project before his senior year as a graphic and interactive communication major at Ringling.
"Austin asked me to start thinking about what to do with this space next door to Clothesline," said Lindstrom, 25. "I did a lot of research, found out what other galleries were doing in places like New York City, and designed artist packets."
Lindstrom helped catapult the 529 Gallery, curating solo shows for artists Walter Matthews ("Parallax" on July 2) and Matt Coombs ("Cinema Verite" on July 30, with a corresponding block party). The debut "Rough and Ready" show on May 21 at 529, featuring the drawings and collages of Brian Haverlock and Tim Jaeger, was a bit less publicized due to its pre-SUM+ date, but it got the ball rolling for subsequent happenings. Jazmin is responsible for drafting artist-gallery contracts and checklists, writing bios, speaking to prospective buyers and sending out press packets.
"The feedback on all the shows has been very good, and the artists have gotten collectors and philanthropists interested in their work," Lindstrom said. "This is, by no means, a golden victory over the Sarasota arts scene, but it's raising awareness that there are young artists here."
Now that the buzz is loud, the 529 clan is bracing for a grand turnout at the upcoming soiree. From 5 to 9:30 p.m. Oct. 1, the public is invited to the free solo show, "GADZOOKS!" starring Alexander Buckly Beck (a.k.a. "Alex the Beck," a professional illustrator and Ringling alum).
Austin Kowal, who serves as head of the vertical paint (graffiti) aspect of the Chalk Festival, believes the Beck show will mark a turning point in the Burns Court movement.
"It's been an organic organism that's grown since we started, and it's been amazing," Austin Kowal said. "When I started Clothesline in 2008 with a homemade press, it started as a popup gallery and it's turned into a successful business with tons of clients. Now 529 is really taking off."
Lindstrom and Jazmin's dedication have been crucial to the 529 endeavor, as they have built a lengthy database of collectors and a waiting list of more than 40 artists.
"I'm just a crazy artist and I'm all over the place and I do what I love. I just throw parties or exhibits because I love it and I want to do it," Austin Kowal said. "Because of Van and Brett's hard work, we now have contracts perfectly written up, and we have schedules and timelines and tons of people trying to get in to do solo exhibitions."
And of course, none of this would flown without Denise Kowal's faith in her son. The buildings she owns, some of which were constructed back in the 1920s, have provided Austin Kowal with the room to nurture his creativity. He was managing his mother's jewelry store a few years ago when business took a dive, and he turned the space into the wildly successful Clothesline. Whenever a tenant leaves, Austin Kowal swoops in and his mother gives him free rein.
"Austin is definitely opening up the younger generations to the art scene, because one of the biggest challenges in Sarasota is keeping the creatives here after they graduate," Denise Kowal said. "It amazes me, the stuff he does."
Austin Kowal and his crew imagine the concept transcending the streets of Burns Court and seeping into the rest of the city, from rundown warehouses to freestanding studios in transitioning neighborhoods. There's no end to the potential.
"The whole art scene in Sarasota can be very stale and cliquey, and we've been trying to make it more about art for the masses and help people feel like they're part of it," Austin Kowal said. "We're a very weird city because we're very art-oriented but we're also very behind the curve. Bigger cities have way more of an understanding of contemporary art, but Sarasota's saying it's not really ready for it. We're getting there."
... one popup gallery at a time.
This story appeared in print on page ART REVIVAL
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