Essay: Open Space, Easy Living Creates Space for Thought in Kansas City | #50StatesofArt
Melaney Ann Mitchell outlines the perks of making art in Western Missouri.
Informality Staff photo May 2016. From Left Melaney Ann Mitchell, Blair Schulman, and Patricia Bordallo Dibildox
As part of 50 States of Art, Creators is inviting artists to contribute first-person accounts of what it is like to live and create in their communities. Melaney Ann Mitchell is an artist, curator, and arts writer based in Kansas City, Missouri.
Kansas City is a place that affords time, space, and special kind of conversation. I have a hybrid practice of writing, curating, and making. Being able to explore these different practices is something that Kansas City's pace offers. We're a big city that moves at a slower speed with a large, open-minded audience and an incredibly generous pool of peers. The depth of the informal dialogue in Kansas City's gallery spaces flows out into the street, to spaces in between, and even into hot tubs. All of which create fertile ground to grow projects here.
For my own studio practice, I make drawings and paintings that explore our relationship to the social media and physical spaces we occupy. Tumblr and Facebook are public-facing and ideally curated home pages. Most recently, I have been working on a project where I redraw images from Tumblr and screenshots from Messenger conversations that leave room for interpretation. These spaces are where we make a lot of assumptions about what someone said or how a particular group of reblogs reflect our identity. Fellow KC artists and friends Jonah Criswell and Sarabeth Dunton have similar methodical drawing practices that often also reference to pop culture and create worlds. For each of us, our practice of drawing is slow and meticulous, which fits in with the city's "no rush" mindset.
Outside of the studio, I started and co-edit Informality, which documents the conversation about art in Kansas City. While we have a lot of good dialogue, one thing that has been missing is critical arts writing. My team's goal is to showcase the larger relationship the work being made here has with the rest of the world. This year we received a Rocket Grant from Charlotte Street Foundation — another Kansas City gem — to support some new programming. One of these programs is Guerrilla Docents, where editor Blair Schulman and I recruit wandering gallery goers to follow us on art tours. This project puts the tour in the audiences' hands to prove their depth of understanding visual art.
In terms of curation, Kansas City provides cheap space with the freedom to experiment. For two years, I ran Subterranean Gallery, an apartment gallery started by my friend Ayla Rexroth in 2010. I was able to collaborate with local artists and friends to work on projects that required everything from stapling party decor to the walls and ceiling, to creating a mirror of a gallery installation in Second Life.
After leaving that space, I had the opportunity to join PLUG Projects, which is an artist-run space in the West Bottoms. PLUG has been a leader in Kansas City in its dynamic programming for art writing and experimental film. It also provides space for ambitious exhibitions that couldn't happen in a commercial gallery. PLUG Projects is run by myself and four other working artists who handle everything from rent, budgeting, preparatory work, marketing, taxes, and most importantly, advocating for our local arts community.
The reason I stick around Kansas City goes beyond gigabit internet and low highway traffic. Kansas City is ripe with opportunities, studio spaces, and a cheap cost of living; in turn, affording it's artists the time they wouldn't get anywhere else.
To learn more about Melaney Ann Mitchell and Informality, visit her website.