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Athens art galleries strive to create creative space for all

Walking around uptown, many will notice the painted cigarette boxes, the graffiti painted murals and the other art pieces that line Athens streets. 

Home to many creative individuals, Athens has Ohio University’s campus art galleries, local businesses like Donkey Coffee & Espresso, 17 W. Washington St. or art spaces like Passion Works Art Studio, 20 E. State St. They all strive to promote student or local artists' work on many different platforms. 

On campus, there are three different types of student art galleries: the Ohio University Art Gallery, the Trisolini Gallery and Cube 4 Gallery

The Ohio University Art gallery hosts typically three to five exhibitions per year, usually showing Master of Fine Arts, or MFA, and Bachelor of Fine Arts, or BFA, thesis shows, typically held in the spring. They also provide undergraduate art students with the opportunity to showcase their art in exhibits throughout the semester. 

Similar to the Ohio University Art Gallery, the Trisolini Gallery, located in Baker University Center is more focused on showcasing graduate and BFA exhibitions. 

Jailei Maas, a sophomore studying studio art and art history and an art ambassador for Seigfred Hall, talks about the way opening night exhibitions usually run. 

“Normally shows will have either a Thursday or Friday night as the opening night and that’s when the artist will be there,” Maas said. “They’ll do like instagram lives. Professors will go, they’ll have drinks and stuff. You can even talk to the artist.” 

Cube 4, on the other hand, is more of an experimental space where undergraduate students are free to use the space in whatever way they please.

Maas believes she’s been given an immense amount of opportunities from showcasing her own work.

“I definitely think exposure is a huge thing especially with the whole online versus in person factor,” Maas said. “A person can walk right in and see an artist they’ve never seen before and go follow them on social media. I also think the opportunity to be able to show in a professional gallery and put that on your resume is really good for us.”

Besides student artwork, many local businesses like Donkey Coffee also display local artists' work. 

Since the opening of Donkey Coffee in 2002, owners Chris and Angie Pyle, sought to create a space where art and community expression is welcome. 

“When they started this coffee shop, they had a vision of creating a community space that really showcased local talent, local art and local expression,” David Lawrence, who is in charge of booking for Donkey Coffee, said. “Same reason that we have open mic night, same reason that we have open stages, poetry slams, and things like that. It’s supposed to be a place in which the community can commune and basically experience the beauty of being human in southeast Ohio.”

Currently, Donkey Coffee is exhibiting a collection of female identified artists called the “Women of Contemporary Art Happening,” featuring the local artists who collaborated together to form the present art exhibit. 

Most of the art in Donkey Coffee tends to be a collaboration of local artists, in order to not only support a community of local creatives, but also to fill up the space with thought-provoking and moving art. 

“If you look around the room right now, each piece is coming from a different artist and different voice, it is their own personal message that they themselves have,” Lawrence said. “The beautiful thing about art in a space like this is it sort of isolates the space and as people contemplate they can create conclusions about the art as well. We just want it to be stimulating, we want it to be thought-provoking, we want it to be lovely.”

Donkey Coffee also values promoting local artists' sales as well. Lawrence said how important it is for artists to get proper exposure in public places. 

“If you just have the art in your house, the artist doesn’t ever get it out there,” Lawrence said. “It's really nice that we can create a space for them to also generate some revenue for themselves as well.”

All of the art on the walls is for sale and interested customers can talk to Donkey Coffee baristas for art inquiries. 

In addition to businesses like Donkey Coffee, Athens also houses studio spaces like Passion Works Studio. 

Passion Works was first established in 1997. Since then they have expanded into a community space with the goal to give people with developmental differences a creative platform. 

“We wanted to really highlight the voices of artists, the people that are generally hidden from the public,” Nancy Epling, studio manager and artist for Passion Works, said. “We like to say that we are not trying to get invited to the party, we are creating the party here. So we’ve had this space for people with developmental differences to shine and to tell their story and really dive deep into their creativity.”

Another way Passion Works strives to be different is the way they obtain their resources and materials for their artwork. Roughly 98% of Passion Works materials are upcycled materials donated by the community or old materials bought at a very low cost from carpet or upholstery stores, Epling said.

“Our focus is upcycle,” Epling said. “Upcycling materials that are discarded, following that narrative of we see purpose and magic in things that people might see as not useful or trash or stuff they can no longer use.”

Passion Works' most recognizable art piece, the passion flower, is made from recycled aluminum from the Athens Messenger printing plates. Many of these beautiful passion flowers are for sale, along with other pieces of art in the studio store. 

Currently, Passion Works is working on art for the Paw Paw Festival, using upcycled materials such as foam cores and paper mache, made from thrown away newspaper or paper bags. Passion Works also has upcoming art shows in places like Akron and Yellow Springs, with the goal of exposing their art in places other than their home gallery. 

“We do try to show our stuff in a more formal setting as well, but then there’s evidence all around our community. The Athens newspaper, the boxes that the newspapers come in, we painted all of those around town,” Epling said. “The cigarette boxes on Court Street are painted by Passion Works also. We are trying to make something ugly beautiful. Basically Athens is kind of like our gallery.”


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