Art Love Collective co-founders Hollie Blakeney and Morgan Long felt the Lawrence arts community was lacking something, and they opened Lawrence’s newest gallery with the intention of filling that void.
The collective opened its doors at 646 Vermont St. in mid-March. Blakeney — who based the business model on an arts co-op she founded in Michigan — refers to Art Love as a “hub” where people can gather not only to purchase and create art, but also to host events and attend artist-led classes.
“Our goal is to provide a safe space for artists from all communities, and to be able to help them sell and promote their work,” Blakeney said. “We really want to help artists grow in an inclusive environment with communal support.”
The collective’s business model aims to make art accessible for artists of all backgrounds. Of the 35 members and 13 commissioned artists, Blakeney said about half are people of color or queer.
Local artist and co-chair and community coordinator for the Indigenous Community Center Moniqué Mercurio, of the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation, said that before Art Love opened, she didn’t have any luck with local galleries.
“As an Indigenous artist, I’ve tried very hard to get into shops locally,” Mercurio said. “I wasn’t met in any capacity of support whatsoever … I work with the community in a very large capacity, so, you know, I’m getting a very good feel of genuine people versus performative people.”
Sam Azzaro, who joined the collective as soon as it opened in March, said they enjoy having space to make their art without censorship. Azzaro has worked in a variety of mediums, including photography, drawing, sculpture and metal work. They received a bachelor’s in fine arts from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater before pursuing a master’s degree in higher education administration at the University of Kansas.
Some of Azzaro’s most recent work deals with the complexities of growing up transgender, and they say the collective allows them to create and show their work unapologetically.
“It’s a space where I don’t have to apologize for who I am,” Azzaro said. “Growing up, it really felt like I had to be closeted and hide that part of myself away. Or I had to tiptoe around varying people in my life. I don’t have to do that anymore. I am here to take up as much space as I want and as I need.”
Blakeney and Long aim to keep money in the artists’ pockets by charging creatives a monthly membership fee and taking a 10% commission. According to Blakeney, traditional galleries charge commissions as high as 70% and prohibit artists from selling their work anywhere else, forcing the creative to raise their prices and cater to a wealthier clientele.
Membership plans at the collective range from $100 to $200 per month and come with access to Art Love’s gallery and 24-hour studios. Additionally, the more expensive options give artists discounts on classroom and event space rentals and online exposure through the collective’s digital art market. There’s also a guest artist option that doesn’t require a membership but takes a 40% commission on sales.
“The main point of this space is just to keep everything in the artists’ pockets — we aren’t here to make money off of them,” Long said. Laughing a bit, she added: “We really just want to pay rent. That’s it.”
By providing an inclusive home base for artists, musicians and writers, Blakeney and Long aim to simultaneously make original artwork accessible and encourage an entire generation of underrepresented artists.
“It’s so empowering for me to see them also take up that space that they need,” Azzaro said. “Being able to support Black artists, Indigenous artists and queer artists in any sort of capacity is something that I really enjoy and love.”
The collective’s Final Friday exhibition, set for 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, April 28, will feature Indigenous artists. On Sunday, it will host the kickoff for Actions for Justice Week, a week dedicated to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Two-Spirit and Trans (MMIWG2ST) people. Read more about that at this link.
Art Love Collective is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. Learn more on their website, artlovecollective.org.
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Chloe Anderson (she/her) contributed to The Lawrence Times from August 2022 through May 2023. She is also published in Climbing magazine, Kansas Reflector and Sharp End Publishing. As a recent graduate of the University of Kansas, Chloe plans to continue her career in photography, rock climbing and writing somewhere out West.
You can view her portfolio, articles and commissioned work here. Check out more of her work for the Times here.