a charlotte street 15 year anniversary project considering the history and future of artist-driven pioneering in Kansas City and the changing nature of the city's "frontiers"
(Click on image to view slideshow)
What follows is the full text from a feature in Review Magazine, Summer 2003, one month after the Dirt Gallery (1997-2003) closed in the West Bottoms. It begins with a contextualizing essay about the history of alternative and artist-run spaces, placing the Dirt within this lineage, then features an interview with former Dirt co-directors, artists Davin Watne (founder) and Leo Esquivel, conducted by Kate Hackman and Hesse McGraw.
THE ART OF ALTERNATIVES
by Kate Hackman
One cannot overstate the importance of “alternative” and artist-run spaces in fueling, feeding, and sustaining a city’s art scene. If museums serve as the back-bone of an art community and commercial galleries are its arms and legs, these artist-run spaces and alternative outposts might be considered the very heart of an art scene, its beating pulse. With few rules to which to conform and little expectation of financial reward, these spaces tend to be where art happens, regardless of who is paying attention.
Of course people do pay attention. Since the early 70s, particularly, when such spaces began sprouting up around the country, they have wielded tremendous influence — providing exposure for emerging, under-recognized, women and minority artists; challenging mainstream ideologies and practices; and presenting types of work formerly not widely embraced by established institutions from performance to temporary installations to interdisciplinary projects and collaborations. Some argue that the impact of these spaces has been so great, in fact, that established institutions have dramatically transformed themselves in response, rendering the “alternatives” less necessary. More and more major museums, for example, now have “project” rooms or programs dedicated to presenting site-specific or experimental work by young and emerging artists, and many show an ongoing commitment to presenting and supporting the work of local artists. (Unfortunately, the latter has not been the case in Kansas City.) Further, the dominance of installation and video, which grew roots in raw warehouse spaces and other non white cubes, has clearly forced museums and galleries to expand the purviews of what they present and collect. And certainly museums are at least somewhat less the bastions of almost exclusively white male culture they used to be. For all of these things, we have alternative spaces and working artists to thank.
On a national level, the contemporary alternative space movement is commonly traced back to the founding of 112 Workshop (now White Columns) in 1970. Initiated by and for visual artists, it was soon joined by others, from Artists Space (opened in 1973 as a project of the New York State Council for the Arts), to Hallwalls in Buffalo (1974), to New Langton Arts in San Francisco (founded in 1975 and originally funded by the local art dealers association) to Randolph Street Gallery in Chicago (1979). Occupying rough spaces, typically in undesirable neighborhoods, these spaces and many others were conceived in part as a means of correcting “imbalances” in the art system: museums’ lack of commitment to living artists; the commodity culture of commercial galleries; a lack of exposure for work engaging political and social issues; a lack of artists’ control over the display of their own work; and a lack of community engagement. As Robert Atkins wrote in an article entitled “One Edge: Alternative Spaces Today” in Art in America several years ago, these new spaces “offered virtually the only means for the development of conceptually oriented, non-commercial forms such as video, installations, and actions … Non traditional curatorial practices also characterized the new alternative spaces: most relied on artists to curate shows, rather than professional curators.”
If not begun as non-profits, a majority of these spaces quickly gained non-profit status, spurred and significantly aided by the increasing availability of grants from all levels of government, especially the then-young National Endowment for the Arts. The accessibility of this support allowed them to grow into formidable institutions in their own right, attracting wide audiences, garnering significant critical attention, and steadily infusing the art world with new artists and ideas. Fostering artistic and curatorial experimentation, these spaces in part served as testing grounds and launch pads — in retrospect, their success at broadening and deepening the contemporary art landscape is readily apparent in everything from the number of art stars who had their first shows at these venues to the more collaborative, artist-driven, and expansive approaches to curatorial practice that are the norm today.
As larger institutions absorbed their lessons, many of these non-profits aged and grew to more closely resemble the very structures they were founded to counter, becoming more professional organizations, complete with bureaucratic structures and high-powered boards of directors By the time the Culture Wars hit in the 90s, their very survival was contingent upon their institutional strength — government support for Artists Space, for example, dropped from $200,000 in 1989 to $40,000 in 1995. In the wake of these massive funding cuts, organizations either had to develop into increasingly savvy, self-sustaining operations, or sink, as many did. Those that survived tend to function somewhat like small museums or kunsthalles, with an array of earned revenue projects, in addition to funding from private foundations and individuals, helping to pay the bills.
Parallel to this history is the history of independent grassroots ventures — spaces and projects funded by the participants themselves, typically run even closer to the bone, and assuming an even wider variety of forms. In Kansas City, these are venues like the Dirt; and the Left Bank and Random Ranch before it; and Your Face, Fahrenheit, and Green Door Gallery now: spaces driven by the personalities and sensibilities of those launching them, directed toward the specific communities of which they are apart, neither official non-profits nor commercial ventures but decidedly labors of love. Intimately linked to their individual founders, these spaces and projects are often ones that spring up for a few years then close when their owners run out of the time, money, or energy to sustain them, or move on to something else.
Fortunately, perhaps precisely because of the obstacles to launching official non-profits in these economic times, we are seeing more and more of these ventures, in small and large cities around the country and around the world. Driven by a d.i.y. ethic, they are often part-time galleries; other times artist collectives; collaborative, interdisciplinary, or activist projects; alternative publications or websites; or creative experiments in communal living. Their’s are the openings and events that attract huge crowds of other artists, teeming with energy. And their’s are ventures that now live on the edges once occupied by spaces like White Columns and Artists Space. Their ever-growing presence, and the decentralized nature of their geographic distribution, currently fuels alternative art fairs and events around the country, like the recent Stray Show and ArtBoat in Chicago, or Artpoint in Miami — vehicles that highlight the vitality of regional scenes and increasingly affirm the fact that a small city location does not preclude a viable art career and/or national recognition.
The Dirt was not only a place to see new work, it was also a swirling meeting place that connected people and spurred as many outside projects as it presented. To flip through a stack of old invitation announcements — or old copies of Review — is to be reminded of a far-ranging array of memorable Dirt shows and moments, and to know that the Dirt provided an important forum and home base for a significant number of Kansas City’s most compelling artists, as well as emerging artists from elsewhere. To consider the number of other spaces that have sprung up around the Dirt over the past seven years in the West Bottoms and beyond is to see that it provided an anchor and an inspiration. When wondering who to thank for the cur-rent vitality and increasing viability of Kansas City’s art scene, one should look not just to the major institutions in Midtown or to the mix in the Crossroads or to the influence of the JCCC Gallery of Art, hut also to the fertile soil of Union Street in the Bottoms, energetically tilled by the Dirt for seven years.
GETTING DOWN AND DIRTY
On March 28, it was The End of an Era as the Dirt Gallery auctioned off artwork and memorabilia and kicked its last keg, marking the space’s close. A month or so later, Kate Hackman and Hesse McGraw sat down with former Dirt directors Davin Watne and Leo Esquivel, to revisit history and discuss the future.
Kate Hackman: I would like to talk a little about how the Dirt got started. I think, Davin, you had just graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute. What was driving you to want to start a space? Were there spaces in Kansas City or in other places that you were looking to as models or for inspiration? What were your original goals?
Davin Watne: I graduated from the Art Institute in 1994. I took five or six months off then came back to town, and the Dirt started in 1995. My senior year at school, I was curating a lot of shows, both on and off campus, in our living room and things like that. I liked the energy, and that whole kind of do-it-yourself ethos. I was highly influenced by the Random Ranch and the Left Bank. David Ford was kind of an idol…
KH: Those spaces were still going then?
DW: Yeah. David Ford would walk through the painting department and I would always try to catch him. Tom Deatherage from the Late Show was always kind of snooping around there, too. So, [after graduating] I wanted to find a place where I could do shows. It started with myself and a woman named Shannon Weir. Jeremy McConnell, with whom I had a close friendship, was doing Flavorpac magazine then. He wanted a big space where he could put on events to pay for the magazine and we wanted a big space where we could do shows. He found the Dirt space and then we got set to move in. By the time all the construction was done and all the landlord stuff went through, it was 1996. We had three shows, and then everyone moved out but me, so I thought it would only last for three months. But then I talked to Jeremy Jones, Leo [Esquivel] and Claire [Finger], and they moved in, and that’s kind of when things started moving forward. Leo Esquivel: I graduated in 1995, and Claire and Jeremy graduated the next year.
KH: Was it called Dirt Gallery from the beginning?
DW: Yeah, I had the name and logo before we even had the space. What we were thinking at the time was to create a space that was more democratic — with other spaces, like Random Ranch or KC Site [in the Hobbs Building], it seemed to be some-what more about who you knew.
KH: And artists that had already been working for a while?
DW: Right. It was more about artists cleaning up their studios and having a show. It was their studio, so they were asking their friends. We wanted something that was a little more serious, but that had that same kind of spirit. Where you could come to me and show me your work and I’d say, “Yeah, I think we can schedule you in,” as opposed to, “hey dude, what’s it take to have a show here?” We did that too… you know. But, what we really wanted to accomplish was to have a venue where we could show the art that was being made by our peers.
KH: So what do you think the Dirt contributed to the overall dynamic of the art scene here? Do you think the work and shows you were doing did indeed fill a gap?
DW: There needed to be a space that was democratic and easily approachable, but also somewhat professional. There are plenty of spaces in town that are interesting, but they’re maybe not as accessible to emerging artists. And then there are spaces that are accessible to emerging artists, but who aren’t going to be there when Review calls or aren’t going to have set hours. There needed to be an extra commitment that’s been the gap. Spaces like the Random Ranch were inspirational, but they weren’t as consistent, they were more fly-by-night.
Leo Esquivel: I think our Pre-Millenium Stress show was one of the first shows here which included people from all over the place (in this case mostly from the east coast) who were kind of on our level in the alternative art scene. That show really opened up the doors for what we did for the rest of that year. Our feeling was that we knew enough people from our pasts, not only from high school and college but just people that we’d met here and there, to get a group show together. It was all networking. We said to the people we knew, “go get us some slides from people who work in your area, people whose work you respect.” From there, we just picked them out.
DW: That set the stage for a flood of slides that were coming from all over the place, and some of it was really good work. Out of making those initial contacts came four shows.
KH: How did you pay for it? Did people drive out with their work?
LE: Yeah. There was an understanding that we weren’t funded. People were responsible for getting the work to the Dirt, then we promised to do everything in our power to make sure the work got back to them in one piece.
DW: Because money was always a problem, we ignored it. We just decided to make things work. Paul Hitopolous, for instance, was getting grants and showing at universities — he used university money to show at our place.
KH: How did you feel that commitment to showing emerging artists from other places was important, in comparison with focusing on emerging artists from Kansas City?
DW: It kind of made us ambassadors to Kansas City on a peer level. We never really attempted to get big name artists — that was just unattainable, we had nothing to offer them. So we starting thinking about the potential of our friends and our peers on a national level — that maybe some of those people would become the next Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst or whoever, and decided to put our energies there.
KH: I think it is an important thing to have done. There is, increasingly, exposure here for young artists making work in Kansas City, but there is maybe a fairly dim awareness of what people at similar points in their careers are making in other places — those are not necessarily the people you are reading about in Art in America or wherever else. So creating that kind of exposure, and being able to identify peers in other places, gives a greater sense of not being isolated in Kansas City but being connected to a much larger network of artists and work being made.
DW: 1998 was a big year for us nationally. We did the Pre-Millenium Stress show; we did the 3rd Annual Art Exchange Show, which was in New York; and we did the show with Shepard Fairey, right as he was starting to get more attention. Going to New York with a van-load of art [for the Art Exchange Show] — a bunch of hayseeds pulling up on Wall Street — we could see how radically different our work was from other emerging artist peer groups and galleries doing similar things around the country.
KH: How so?
DW: Just seeing the different levels of professionalism, for one. Some of them were really dialed in, very white-gloved. Some were really snooty. But some of them were really cool we made long-lasting friendships with some of them. It was interesting to see how Kansas City measured up to other places. I felt that [work from] Kansas City had an extremely original look to it. You walk around in these cubicles, almost like a mall, and you’re going from like TCBY to the Gap or some-thing. Some people were following trends to a tee, but I felt like the work from Kansas City really wasn’t, that ours showed more of an emphasis on raw, original, organic talent. Other spaces didn’t have such a strength in painting, or traditional drawing, or printmaking, or flat work. And I think the ideas behind the work from here were just as valid and interesting as with the other spaces, which were often presenting very technical, very technology-driven work, which left you a little cold. It was interest-ing to see people interact with the work we brought. Some people would walk right past it and other people would spend a lot of time. We actually sold a lot of work.
KH: How did you come to do that show?
DW: Martin Mazurra, [a friend of Davin’s from high school who later showed at the Dirt] turned us onto that. Bill Arning put it together. We contacted him, sent him a press kit and slides, paid $500, and got in. Just recently we went to ArtBasel in Miami. That was a similar thing [Dirt was included in Artpoint, a satellite of ArtBasel featuring a selection of artist-run spaces from around the country] put together by Janet Phelps. That opportunity came through a recommendation from Lump Gallery, who we’d been corresponding with. We have always tried to connect with spaces in other places doing things similar to the Dirt.
LE: It’s been really interesting to see how other people experience Kansas City. When we bring artists into town, they’re like, “Wow, there’s a lot going on here.” They are just so impressed with Kansas City. When Daniel Heimbinder’s parents were here, I took them to about five different shows down in the Bottoms and it was, “this is like SoHo before it was SoHo.” Also, I think we were the first space here to take work from Kansas City out to other places, especially on the emerging artist level.
KH: As you went along, with more spaces opening here, and commercial galleries paying at least a little more attention to work being made here — did that change at all how you perceived the Dirt and its function? How did the Dirt evolve and respond to changes in the community?
DW: I think Leo and I felt that our shows had become a little too connected to friendships, that friends had begun to think they could get a show whenever they wanted. We became more com-mitted to being democratic in how we chose our shows and to being more professional as curators, which forced us to develop and exercise our curatorial skills.
KH: Did that lead to more group shows?
LE: We had a number of different ways of looking at work and choosing to show it. One question was, would the show be good for the community? We wanted to step out, reach out to people from other communities, maybe a little closer to home this time. This led to things like the Post: No Realism show [which was co-curated with Wichita Arts Center and included artists from both Kansas City and Wichita.] We were looking at both the quality of work but also the more political and social effects of the exhibtions. Secondly, we decided that we should start looking at work that was already made f as opposed to choosing artists to make work specifically for the shows] — it would still be cur-rent, but eliminate the headache of having to make sure the work got done. So that changed how we approached things a little. And we still did show some friends, like Daniel Heimbinder. I’ve always respected his work, hut it wasn’t until I’d received slides from him that I actually made the decision to really push for a show. It was really different than anything I’d seen him do, and I was really glad to bring it here.
KH: Maybe you could talk about your audience a bit and how it grew and changed over time.
DW: At first it was our friends and a lot of art students. There was then a time when it felt like there was a lot of consolidation in town. Now it feels more like there’s kind of this line drawn in the sand. I think it was the most consolidated when the Dolphin was doing the Crossroads mailer. That just reached a huge audience. That’s when I saw people I’d never seen before. They’d always come early, when we were just setting up.
LE: And Culture Under Fire. That brought all sorts of people down.
DW: It was very diversified. And some of those people came hack. And some people have been supportive all along. But there was always kind of an underdog feeling about it. LE: And people had certain perceptions of it, too. People assumed, “Oh, well you guys are going to be open until like one o’clock in the morning;” that it was just a big party.
KH: On another note, I bought the first piece of art I ever purchased in Kansas City at the Dirt, from the first show I saw there. But I wonder if you generally sold much work?
LE: No (laughs). Toward the end we sold a little more. But we would never go up to people and push them to buy things. Davin was really good about calling certain people and inviting them down, but sales just didn’t happen that much. Our overhead was always pretty low, though. We worked every angle that we possibly could, to where making a sale wasn’t exactly crucial. And we never paid ourselves anything.
KH: We are seeing more recent graduates staying in Kansas City and some opening their own spaces in the West Bottoms and elsewhere. What advice would you give them, and, in relation to the legacy of the Dirt, what do you feel are the most urgent points for a young space to pick up on?
DW: I’d like to see, and think there has been evidence of, more professionalism — not so much business professionalism, hut a more professional look. I’d like to think we played a role in raising the bar. Spaces like Your Face look really good. I think that’s key. The groundwork has been laid — people are starting to take emerging artists a little more seriously in this town, and seeing them as an asset, in part because there are more grads are sticking around. And they’re not so impressed with the Crossroads — they’re seeing beyond that, they’re seeing beyond the commercial. I think they have to be attuned and keep their ear to the ground in terms of what’s going on in Kansas City, and also what’s going on nationally. Also, there’s a lot of energy and youthful people out on Friday nights, but then you need to have an afterlife, after the opening, where you can attract patrons in a safe setting and they can take their time and look around, where they’re not going to be bombarded with people and they’re not going to feel intimated. That’s something we had to learn.
LE: I’d like to see people do what we didn’t always do, which is to have a more comprehensive presentation in terms of information. For example, to have curatorial statements at the entrance of the gallery, so people have some tools for under-standing without having to approach the curators for an answer. I’d like to see people go farther with that.
KH: In seeking to assume that degree of polish and professionalism, is there a fear of veering away from the original spirit of artist-run and alternative spaces, in the sense that there should be a looseness, an urgency, and an immediacy in being able to throw a show together in a few days’?
DW: It’s a fine line. And different spaces have different styles. 1 think when we started it was all about, “let’s throw this show together in two weeks.” Actually, we were approached to do a national show where you had 24 hours to put a show together and have an opening — it was about that kind of spirit. But it seems to me that Your Face, for example, walks the line pretty well, staying loose but really professional. The Green Door is more planned out — they take a little longer and their shows stay open longer. It is hard, because you’re really learning as you go. I must say that the Dirt Gallery became something of a teaching facility for the Art Institute, which definitely took advantage of the fact that we were grads who were doing something successful and interesting in town. People brought classes down here all the time, and our talks were almost a blueprint on how to do shows. Out of that came people like Jaimie Warren and Hector Casanova; I remember them asking us questions.
Hesse McGraw: I’m wondering how running the Dirt affect-ed the making of your own work. Was it a detriment to getting work done?
LE: For a good portion of the time when the Dirt Gallery was running, I didn’t make a lot of work. I only made art if someone specifically asked me to be in a show. For me, that was good enough — I was doing other things with my time and also working long hours at the jobs that I had. What I told myself was that 1 didn’t have to be making artwork in order to be artistic. So, for example, when my relatives would say they wanted some of my artwork, I would say, “Well. I don’t have anything to give you,” but what I would do instead was buy other people’s pieces. I would go to the Art Institute and find three collaborations by Jaimie Warren and Lindsay Barras. I’d give them to my sister and say, “Well, I’m not making art but this is what I like and what I think you should hang on your walls.” So that was my view on how I could still participate. Even though I wasn’t making a whole lot of art, my aesthetic was still being pushed.
DW: It was a double-edged sword. We had this great studio space which was, at least in certain months of the year, really conducive to making art. But it was the same thing for me — the only time I really made art was when I was asked to. I’d noodle around in the studio but it was always for the purpose of showing somewhere. Never have I set out to create a body of work and then shop it around to galleries. But this didn’t mean we weren’t constantly involved in art, constantly saturated with it, coming home and sitting around with a six-pack talking about art and things we had read. Also, I think Leo and I probably come away with a little more perspective on what a gallery owner would want to see from an artist and how to prepare for that.
HM: What are your hopes for the Kansas City art community? Do you think it will continue to grow, and what sort of role do you think alternative spaces will play in that?
DW: Of course I’d like to see it keep growing. I think the whole Urban Culture Project is really exciting and I’d like to see it move forward. And I’d like to see alternative spaces play more of a role and not give up.
KH: In relation to that, what do you think about the future of the West Bottoms?
DW: I see things maybe moving out of the Bottoms: I’m not sure. It’s so closely tied to commerce and real estate. It seems like what Stretch is doing, and MoMO, and the Next Space ton East 18th Street] — that area seems really fertile right now. The West Bottoms, I think, still has potential, but the area where we were was so key location wise, and our landlord has absolutely blown that, so that I think it will never happen again in the same way. That building was the perfect size and the perfect price and the perfect location for a community on a block where there was a lot of history. I would like to see that kind of magic happen again — I could see it happening maybe on East 18th Street. I’d also like to see more spaces buy and own their own buildings, more artists as landlords and property owners. That’s so key. And what David Ford has done on the YJs block, although he doesn’t own those spaces. In the West Bottoms, on that block of Union, if artists had owned those buildings it would have changed things — artists would have improved them a lot more, and there wouldn’t have been the potential for that plug to he pulled at any given moment. Another thing that’s really interesting is the community leaders who have arisen out of all of this. There are people like David Hughes [Director of Charlotte Street Foundation], who have been really supportive of the Dirt and who are bringing that sensibility to the things they are doing.
LE: I think, too, if more commercially-oriented spaces start showing work that might he classified as alternative, it is not a bad thing. Hopefully. the young artists sticking around town are not going to feel like that’s a no-no, that somehow they don’t have street cred by showing at those spaces.
HM: So what about your personal plans?
LE: I have the Charlotte Street show coming up. I have really recommitted myself to making artwork and making that the focus of my life. I am wanting to show my work outside of Kansas City, too. I’ve always believed you don’t have to live in New York in order to make work. Actually, you can’t make work in New York —– most people I know there are not making much work unless they have a show.
DW: I’m getting married. Like Leo, I really want to concentrate on my work. I’m finding it a little hard to focus because I miss the energy that was there at the Dirt, but it’s also kind of nice not to have that distraction. It is a hit of a culture shock I live in the suburbs now, and my studio is in the garage. One thing coming up is that I may be doing another public art project, a collaboration with Dylan Mortimer, which will be in the suburbs, actually, looking at the potential of infiltrating the sub-urban rather the urban environment.
I came to Kansas City in 1998, three years after Dirt Gallery opened its doors. During that year, I came to know the Dirt as a place that contained a real potential for honesty. In looking for a place to begin talking about the Dirt, I reread an article by Juliet Schor and Douglas Holt called “Culture Jamming.” In this article they talk about the dissolving ability for people to do something real. They go on to point out that “Authentic acts tend to get noticed amidst the fakery and correctness on which postmodern culture thrives.” I think that they would appreciate what it is the Dirt has been able to achieve over the last seven years. My most memorable experience from that year was a show called Raging Bull. A group of artists known as Machismo had, in conjunction with a more traditional “art on the walls show,” incorporated a boxing match in which the four artists fought six or seven rounds in a sort of free-for-all that I think pretty much ended in exhaustion. This show, and its ability through the place and the artists to create an event that was conceptually challenging as well as physically stimulating, really defined for me the strength of the arts in Kansas City. Since that first year, I have come to believe that one of the strongest things that Kansas City does have to offer is the very real potential for artist-run spaces to exist, thrive, and also to be taken very seriously. I think a lot of the ability for artist-run spaces to be taken seriously is indebted to the Dirt Gallery and what it has done for the arts here. I also had the privilege of being one of many roommates to pass through the Dirt over its history. During this time, I was able to meet and become involved with many artists, writers, and other “dignitaries” that are important to the arts here; for this I am grateful. It was a place of convergence for many people and will be missed.
—Matt Wycoff, artist
“Where is truly active and current art to be found?”
Dirt Gallery has certainly presented an answer to this question through their seven years of activity. In recent years it has become evident that a practicing artist has access to limited types and amounts of information. This information seems to be controlled by certain media and institutions, which tend to fulfill an economic function rather than their original purpose of cultivating and nurturing our culture. This misguided orientation not only creates a false impression of current artistic and theoretical trends hut also makes it difficult for practicing artists to recognize and react to the cur-rent activities and ideas of others. This centralization of information, which is deeply rooted in the socioeconomic superstructure of our society, makes one realize the need to restructure the current system in order to create a healthier and truly postmodern artistic environment. In 1998, I had my first show at Dirt Gallery. Prior to this show, 1 did not know anything about the Kansas City art scene or Kansas City itself except that John Cage mentioned the word “Kansas” somewhere in his works. However, starting on the night of my opening, my idea of the city has gone from a provincial midwestem town to a city with one of the most active and energetic art scenes, full of possibility and potential. At the opening, I was absolutely astonished by the number of people who flooded the space, from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Furthermore, I was impressed with Dirt Gallery’s ability to organize and run such a successful exhibition of an unknown Japanese artist. This shows that the organizers were interested in a true cultural exchange, and not in conforming to the hierarchy of the art world. I believe that truly active and current art lies on the stratum constituted by young and undiscovered artists around the world. To understand cur-rent artistic trends and thoughts as a comprehensive whole, this stratum needs to he opened up and given exposure. This is exactly what Dirt Gallery has done. I would like to give thanks for its long years of hard work and sacrifice for the artistic community, and I hope that the young artists of Kansas City will carry on its legacy.
-Ryuta Nakajima, Assistant Professor, University of Hawaii-Manoa Art Department
After moving to Kansas City in 1998, my existence was pretty uninteresting for about five months until one January opening at the Dirt. Thanks to the generous hosts of the gallery, my social life instantly became exciting, intense, and diverse, as I met stimulating artists, musicians, colleagues, and other creative minds. The Dirt was an unusually successful clearing house of people, ideas, art, trends, music, performance, etc. Its numerous unconventional events and happenings drew diverse audiences to the West Bottoms and enhanced our sense of community. Watching a roasting pig in a pit in the back of the Dirt and putting out a bonfire of wooden palettes are just some of the vivid visual memories that confirm to me that the Dirt wasn’t just another gallery. It was a gift of energy, ingenuity, and vitality to the Kansas City creative community. The “Dirt Phenomenon” would not have come to life without the people who were at the heart of the gallery and whose hearts were truly in the Dirt. Davin Warne and Leo Esquivel, thank you! — Kati Toivanen, artist, Assoc. Professor, UMKC Dept. of Art