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‘Not highbrow, not lowbrow, unibrow': How Kettle Art Gallery brings art to the masses

Visitors walk around Kettle Art Gallery during Deep Ellum's wine walk.
Deep Ellum Foundation
Visitors walk around Kettle Art Gallery during Deep Ellum's wine walk.

Editor's note: This story is part of an ongoing series for Arts Access examining the health and well-being of our North Texas arts economy.

In the heart of Deep Ellum, it’s a rainy Thursday evening. But that doesn’t stop a line of people from forming outside of Kettle Art Gallery for Deep Ellum’s monthly wine walk.

For Dallas Arts Month in April, the theme is “arts in the city” and it’s fitting that Kettle Art Gallery is at the event’s epicenter.

Take it from North Texans on Reddit who discussed where to find Dallas’ local lowbrow arts scene. Redditors all up-voted a reply about Kettle Art Gallery, making it the top answer. The lowbrow art movement celebrates art from street culture that is more popular and accessible.

Frank Campagna, owner of Kettle Art Gallery, said some of the gallery’s art could be considered lowbrow. However, Campagna said Kettle offers a wide range of art to select from. There are stickers and pens you can pick up for $3, prints for $30 or paintings for $3,000.

“I've always wanted to do a t-shirt with an illustration of Frida Kahlo on it, where it says Kettle Art that says, ‘Not high brow, not low-brow, unibrow,’” Campagna said.

Kettle Art Gallery opened in 2005. Campagna said he wanted to reimagine traditional art galleries by not creating barriers to entry for artists or customers like cost or industry standing.

Kettle Art has a different vibe than traditional art galleries. The walls are densely packed with art. The gallery is crowded with people as music blasts. It’s lively and loud.

“My first condition when I started this gallery, and I started it with six other artists, was basically to knock the stuffy out of stuffy art galleries because I didn't care for the format,” he said.

That means visitors can find works from up-and-coming high schoolers to seasoned artists in their 70s. Campagna is especially passionate about sourcing artists from North Texas and across the state.

“We're always bringing people in from elsewhere to try and make our city international as opposed to raising our people up,” Campagna said. “We've got the gold. All we've got to do is just keep going.”

Friends Erica Zavala (left) and Hau Dang (right) pick up their pink drinking glasses designed by Austin-based artist Sandra Boskamp.
Elizabeth Myong
Friends Erica Zavala (left) and Hau Dang (right) pick up their pink drinking glasses designed by Austin-based artist Sandra Boskamp.

Artists like Austin-based Sandra Boskamp, who designed pink glasses for the wine walk. The swirling pink cup designed by Boskamp is what brought local Hau Dang out to the wine walk with his friend Erica Zavala. By pre-ordering online, they were able to get their glasses for $15 while some of Boskamp’s works on Etsy sell for over $1,000.

Dang, who works in IT, lives in Deep Ellum and often frequents Kettle Art Gallery on his walks around the neighborhood. He’s a big fan of Boskamp’s work.

“Her signature is pretty apparent. You know, there's the partial face and then her head’s blown off or is smeared off or something going on with her head. You never know what's going on, but her work is beautiful,” Dang said.

On the other hand, it’s Zavala’s first time visiting the gallery.

“I don't really know her work yet,” she said. “He invited me here because he's a big fan of hers.”

Zavala, who’s a coder, said she enjoyed visiting the event with Dang and experiencing something new. Before heading out, they also picked up a third glass to give to a friend.

That’s the draw of Kettle Art Gallery: it’s for everyone.

Arts Access is an arts journalism collaboration powered by The Dallas Morning News and KERA.

This community-funded journalism initiative is funded by the Better Together Fund, Carol & Don Glendenning, City of Dallas OAC, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Eugene McDermott Foundation, James & Gayle Halperin Foundation, Jennifer & Peter Altabef and The Meadows Foundation. The News and KERA retain full editorial control of Arts Access’ journalism.

Elizabeth Myong is KERA’s Arts Collaborative Reporter. She came to KERA from New York, where she worked as a CNBC fellow covering breaking news and politics. Before that, she freelanced as a features reporter for the Houston Chronicle and a modern arts reporter for Houstonia Magazine.