New downtown gallery makes its debut tonight

Friday, November 2, 2007
Untitled Gallery of Contemporary Art, at 116 N. Main St. in Cape Girardeau, will have a soft opening for First Friday with a Grand Opening next month. Operators hope that it will be a venue for students to display their work. (Kit Doyle)

Only a few weeks ago the building at 116 N. Main St., some prime downtown real estate, sat empty. Empty except for a huge pile of boards and other building materials lying in the middle of the floor.

But a plan was already in the works to turn the space into a showcase for contemporary art produced by students at Southeast Missouri State University -- a plan formed by students Tim Vollink and Nathan Pierce over a barbecue dinner in August. Tonight the gallery, called the Untitled Gallery of Contemporary Art, opens to the public for the first time in what Vollink and Pierce are calling a test run. In December the gallery will hold its grand opening on the first Friday of the month.

Local artist Craig Thomas said he also has plans to open his Black Door Gallery, located in an 1880s-era building on his property on Spanish Street, to the public in December.

The idea, said Pierce and Vollink, is to provide a space for students who haven't formed connection with the local arts community.

"There are a lot of students that just don't think they can get downtown," Vollink said.

Vollink's father supplied the building while Pierce provided the carpentry knowledge. Two more exhibiting artists, Rochelle Steffen and Stu Hao, also contributed money or labor to get the gallery up and running. Those four will have work displayed tonight.

For six months, the group will have the building rent free. After that, if the gallery continues, it will have to support itself. Vollink and Pierce said they'll charge artists a small fee -- $20 to $30 -- to exhibit a few pieces in the gallery.

Students don't have much to spend to rent bigger spaces sometimes, so the gallery will give them an affordable option for showing their work to the public, Pierce said.

For now, Vollink and Pierce said the gallery isn't a business venture, just a place in the bustle of downtown for students to get their work seen.

Untitled will be the first gallery in Cape Girardeau run for university students, by university students. For more than a year the Fountain Street Gallery, owned by Southeast art professor Sarah Riley, provided a space for some university students who had joined up with the gallery to display their work.

But that gallery closed this spring. Riley said it wasn't really because of the bottom line, but that she really just didn't have the time and energy to run the place on top of her other responsibilities.

Steffen seems to think the gallery will be able to support itself. Of the artists that teamed up to get Untitled off the ground, Steffen may be the most experienced in showing her work to the public at solo and group exhibition and in juried competitions.

She admits the students and their contemporary art still haven't become mainstream, but she said an interest in unconventional art forms is emerging in Cape Girardeau.

Like Untitled, Thomas said his Black Door Gallery isn't really about business, either, but about art itself.

"We're going to do it whether there's a market or not," Thomas said.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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