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Arts & Life

Gallery Stakes Claim To 'New Frontier' For Artists In Northeast Kansas City

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Suzanne Gunther installs her show 'Concatenation,' portraits of people in Kansas City's creative community.

A storefront on the corner of Brooklyn and Lexington, across the street from a Caribbean restaurant and a convenience store in Kansas City's Historic Northeast, might be an unexpected location for an art gallery. But The Source Fine Art owner Bill Heineken, who hosts his second art opening on Friday, says more artists are coming to the neighborhood.

“There’s probably one hundred artists within a four-mile radius of here,” Heineken says. “There’s some beautiful people here. And I think a lot of them came here because they could afford it. A lot of them love the architecture. This is the oldest suburb of Kansas City, so a lot of the big money that started this city started here.”

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Gallery owner Bill Heineken.

Heineken's new show is an homage to Kansas City's creative community. Working in the gallery, Suzanne Günther (Levy) poured resin over portraits of 83 musicians, artists and other people she calls “longtime locals.” The cast of characters includes artists David Ford and Hector Casanova and musicians Jeff Harshbarger and Kasey Rausch. 

Günther lives in Germany now, but for many years she considered Kansas City her home base. 

“I ask people what their 'thank you letter to Kansas City' is and this is kind of mine,” Günther says. “I finally have a chance to work with some of these incredible people I’ve known over the years in a way that’s significant and to celebrate them and what they’ve brought to Kansas City.”

Many of the people Günther photographed know each other in one way or another. She titled the show “Concatenation,” a phrase used in computer programming that means a series of interconnected things or events. Günther recorded interviews with each of her subjects and audio of the interviews will form the underlying conversation on opening night.

One theme of that conversation was the gentrification of neighborhoods once inhabited by artists.

“All the areas where artists have been up until this time — the Crossroads, the West Bottoms — rents have doubled there,” says Günther. “As I started talking to more and more people about the Northeast, this seems to be the next frontier for the artists. When I found out his (Heineken's) studio was here, I said that’s exactly what I want to do.”

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Heineken and Theodis Williams survey the photographs as Gunther's exhibit takes shape.

One of Günther's subjects is Theodis Williams (known around town as Sonny), who dressed in a Josephine Baker costume for his portrait.

“It’s one of my favorite costumes,” Williams says. “She is one of my idols. The struggle she went through, the legacy she left behind blows my mind. I just like it because there’s barely anything there. Well, I have bananas that are covering certain parts of me in certain areas.”

Heineken says he takes a pragmatic view of the itinerant nature of the local arts scene. He says places like the Crossroads aren’t for him or his gallery.

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Gunther pours on a layer of resin to give a glossy effect.

“I think it’s a nice meat-market sort of scenario where people come to have drinks and there happens to be art,” Heineken says. “I don’t give a damn about competing with that. I just want to sustain. I put myself here because I can afford it. Down there, I’d just be worrying. I’d just be a manager, and that’s not what I want to do. I want to work, I want other people to work, I want other people to find art in their life.”

“Concatenation” opens with a reception from 9 p.m.-midnight on Friday, July 29, at The Source Fine Art, 2201 Lexington Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri, 215-539-9944. The show continues through September 30.

Julie Denesha is a freelance photographer and reporter for KCUR. Follow her @juliedenesha.

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