If Annie Bolling and Beverley Lamb reach their highest aspiration for their 1,800-square-foot art gallery on Woodburn Avenue, the art they make will fill the entire 1.96 square miles of East Walnut Hills and Walnut Hills combined.
And the greatest artwork produced by The Gallery Project they operate will be a combination of the art people create, and the ordinary people themselves who are the creators. Their masterpiece will be a true neighborhood beloved by the diverse collections of people who inhabit, visit or labor in that community.
Art definitely will be made, in many ways, and by people of varying skill levels. Children will receive art experiences, training and mentoring that many of them would never see at their public schools. Adults may learn new skills, and they will meet new people different from themselves.
“And a stranger becomes a friend,” Bolling says with a smile.
Bolling’s latest art gallery – this one a non-profit – offered its first art exhibition during Mardi Gras of 2014. The original vision that Bolling and Lamb had was for an after-school opportunity for children whose artistic talents and sensibilities weren’t fully recognized in schools that had seen cuts to arts programs.
Their vision for The Gallery Project now is expanding to almost a Version 2.0. But first, there was the initial dream, which remains part of the larger one.
A Different Path
Even before Bolling shut her PAC Gallery in 2012, she and Lamb pondered what to do next.
“After I closed that gallery it was kind of back to the drawing board: ‘What are you going to do, what do you like about the art world, what do you not like about it?’” she says. “I’ve been in the commercial gallery world for 12 or 13 years, and Beverley and I were talking about working with kids, and art, and how moving that can be, and how art is such an amazing vehicle for people’s emotions.”
She and Lamb also hated the knowledge that for many students today, “if you’re creative, and you’re in a school system that isn’t appreciating that measure of creativity because there’s no money for art classes, or gym, the only measure of intelligence is left-brain-geared activities, well then, who’s rooting for you?” she asks. “Who’s helping you? Who’s connecting you with the right people? Who’s steering you in the right direction?
“Who knows? Are you going to be the next Mark Rothko or Robert Rauschenberg, or Jim Dine?” she asks. “The chances of that are slim to none, but you can get a job as a graphic designer. You can get a job as a photographer….”
The two decided they had the skills and network to make something happen in an area that could use something different.
A New Thing
“We have this Rolodex that we have of people that we know in the art world, and what if we connect people and put them together, through creation, through creative projects?” they asked.
“Maybe you get an internship,” Bolling says. “Maybe you get a scholarship because you’d be surprised how many art scholarships are out there. Maybe you apply to Cincinnati State to learn how to be a videographer. Maybe you do want to paint and you paint murals for ArtWorks, and we introduce you. It’s about who you know, and making those connections. That’s when change can occur, and that’s when communities are built.”
“That’s what we’re trying to do here at The Gallery Project,” Bolling says, “is art for social change.”
In recent months, the vision has expanded. Here’s their new ideal: “It is inclusive of the entire community,” Bolling says.
A Community Center, Tinged with Art
Bolling and her board still want to have a functioning place after school where students can participate in programming.
For example, “We’ll bring in a graphic designer and we’ll have some sort of design challenge that you participate in it,” she says. “Then we’re going to market that on Instagram and Facebook. So you’re going to learn about those tools. You can have an Instagram and be a millionaire these days if you have X amount of followers. Coca-Cola will give you $30,000 to post it to your Instagram account. That’s real. OK, sign me up. I want that.”
The Gallery Project, whose tagline is, “art, community, connection,” will help kids learn and make art connections.
In early January, Bolling and her board gathered one Saturday to hatch part of their plan, around the idea of open spaces, and how they can be filled.
“We are going to have a big, empty white wall, and we’re going to fill it up,” Bolling says. “But we’re going to let the community fill it up. We’re going to let the community curate the gallery.”
It will be “like a museum of artifacts and experiences,” she says. “And it’s going to be produced by people of the community.”
From various contributions people may make, the non-profit gallery can become “this ongoing museum,” she says. “We have these Walks on Woodburn every six weeks. So we have these open forums about asking people, ‘what is your contribution to community? What do you care about? You know, these kind of questions.
From there, “people can bring back something that refers back to their experience from those questions,” she says. “Maybe it’s an artifact. Maybe it’s like, ‘I go around the neighborhood and I pick up litter.’ So it represents that and we stick it on the wall. Maybe it’s a poem. Maybe it’s written. Maybe it’s a song, and it gets sung, or we have a video of you singing it. But throughout this upcoming year we turn this art project into this ongoing collection of people’s experiences from the community, and their artifacts. And so it becomes this kind-of installation, the community’s artwork. And so that’s all-inclusive.”
She’s hopeful a core group of kids the gallery project has been interviewing will see the possibilities, take it seriously, and the programming will help realize dreams. They can learn about graphic design, social media, app design, web design and other alloys of technology and art.
“And then we’ll have guest speakers come in and then the students can take advantage of criticism,” she says. “What’s it feel like to be rejected? And that’s a big part of it.”
“One of the first forms of social media is the printing press,” she notes. “It’s the first way of mass communication. How does graphic design play into that? Then let’s make posters for the Walk on Woodburn, and each one looks different. Let’s do something for the community. Let’s advertise all the businesses for East Walnut Hills. Let’s put creatives together, and then see what happens.”
This spring, the gallery’s board is mulling “this idea of a community dinner, bringing people together, and what happens?” Bolling says. “Like a big potluck. It becomes an art installation via food, and again, we’re inviting neighbors, and have dinner with a stranger.”
This can be fun.
“You have Walnut Hills and East Walnut Hills, two diverse neighborhoods that have a lot of wealth and then have the other end of the spectrum,” Bolling says. “And here they are, working in conjunction with one another, working side by side. How do we break down those walls? Bring those people together?”
It’s important to create pride in your neighborhood so you’re less likely to do things like toss litter into the streets, she says: “You need to have some ownership to it. You need to feel emotionally connected to it in order to respect it.”
Here’s an example of the vibe that is happening at The Gallery Project: Every month a young woman arrives, sets up a stage and people perform or play their music. “They’re rapping, or DJ’ing, it’s just some live music,” Bolling says. “That’s fun. It’s fun to move your body. Those are all healthy things. And so that’s what we’re trying to build.”
Those Between the Destinations
Beverley Lamb, The Gallery Project’s program director, hopes the facility fills a gap that many economic developments often do not.
“As we look at what’s going on in a lot of urban areas with the regrowth, a lot of the growth is more business-focused, and I certainly support that,” Lamb says. “But there’s really nowhere in that growth that addresses just the community and the people who aren’t going to go to the restaurants to eat, and the people who are not going to go to the local establishments for cocktails.”
The Gallery Project, Lamb says, is a place that can answer the question, “What about these other people?”
“And I think that’s somewhere that we can fill in,” Lamb adds. It’s a place where the community can feel it doesn’t need an invitation to become involved.
“We are here to serve that purpose that no one else really has looked at in these growth plans,” Lamb says.
While new establishments draw people from beyond the neighborhood, this place can serve those from within, says Gallery Project board member Dan Joyner.
“These new places are destinations, they mean something to people who come here, Joyner says. “But there are also people in between the destinations that inhabit this area, and so art can help us get at that reality.”
That’s, I think, the opportunity that this place gives us,” he says, “to bring in the neighborhood and help us use art to reveal the neighborhood’s stories, the truth. I like the idea of ‘the spaces in between the destinations.’”
Lamb lives in Evanston after living in Walnut Hills for 30 years. Bolling was her yoga teacher. They met at an art opening. Connection made.
Joyner has lived in East Walnut Hills a couple years, after a decade in Walnut Hills.
“I was attracted to the tagline for this organization: Art, Connection, Community,” Joyner says. “The idea of connection, to me, that is what a neighborhood is: Neighborhood is where you connect.
“I believe that it’s through people’s gifts and talents that we create a satisfied neighborhood,” he adds.
Mariemont to East Walnut Hills
Bolling, 41, grew up in Mariemont and graduated from Ursuline Academy in 1992. She attended the University of Kentucky where she burned through several majors until a friend reminded her she had enjoyed ceramics in high school.
She took an art class that was a prerequisite for hand-building of ceramics.
“I took this class, and I’m like, ‘You can get a degree in this?’” she says. “These four-hour classes where you learn how to use band saws and cut stuff? This is great. This is not boring. And so I switched my major to art. It was my junior year, and then after I did that I transferred to DAAP (the College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning),” at the University of Cincinnati.
She spent four years at DAAP, for a total of seven in college.
“My dad was like, ‘Seven years, and you’re not going to be a doctor…. Or a lawyer,’” she chuckles.
Even during DAAP, “It’s like I knew I wasn’t an artist, but I loved it, and I loved the artists, and being around them, and being around the creative process, and identifying with that, and watching these people have the guts to pour stuff out,” she says.
“And I’m like, ‘In Mariemont, we leave that in the closet. We don’t air that. We don’t talk about that.’ And these real subjects came to life, and humanity, and like people have demons, and people struggle. We’ve all suffered at some level. We’ve all experienced joy. There’s beauty, and ugliness.”
After graduating in 1999 with a bachelor’s in fine art with a concentration in ceramics, she became the art-gallery administrator at Closson’s, where she worked two years.
She realizes that if she, as a junior at the University of Kentucky, didn’t know an arts career was a possibility for her – even though her parents took her to museums, theater and the opera – most kids without access to art classes also don’t know their possibilities.
After Closson’s closed its downtown store, a group created the Annie Bolling Gallery in Oakley during 2003. About a year later it became the Phyllis Weston-Annie Bolling Gallery, which moved to O’Bryonville in 2006. In 2009 Bolling launched PAC Gallery, a commercial contemporary-art space.
Running a non-profit gallery, even with the concerns about fundraising and the need for grants, “is so much more liberating,” Bolling says. “Being bound to a commercial gallery meant you couldn’t take risks. You eventually have to come back to bread and butter. And I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to stay in that safety zone. I wanted to challenge people. I wanted to have a dialogue. I mean, this is real. It’s not like being a Sunday painter. There’s some real content in art that’s really valuable information. Sometimes it isn’t pleasant.”
As Bolling and her board created plans for the coming year on that Saturday in early January, the walls of The Gallery Project were almost completely bare – a blank slate.
That was appropriate.
“With this project we don’t want to put too many limits onto it because we don’t want to dictate what it’s going to be,” she says. “We don’t want to have this preconceived notion of what the end result looks like because then we’re going to be ultimately somewhat disappointed. But it has to evolve organically through participation of the community and then we build upon that. And then we can appreciate it as beautiful.”
Bolling, who operates the nearby yoga/Pilates studio Clear, also on Woodburn Avenue, likes the energy of the neighborhood.
“I think this neighborhood is very grass-roots. All the shop owners are putting in their sweat-equity, and putting their heart and soul into their businesses,” she says. She notes the area has several development and business organizations, “and we want to start bridging all those together, to hopefully map something out that reads as this supportive neighborhood, and then the pride. That’s how you prevent someone from chucking garbage out the window, when you take ownership of the streets.”
Bolling and friends are on the brink of dramatic changes to the original plan of merely offering after-school programs.
“And that’s a nice process,” she says. “That’s not staying within the lines.”
The Walk on Woodburn happens every sixth Friday at 6 p.m. The next one will be March 6. The gallery’s website is: www.thegalleryprojectcincy.org.