What had been a disappointment for Harvester Arts has turned into something fortuitous.
The nonprofit art space, which is unlike a traditional gallery in that it showcases processes and ideas behind art instead of simply the art, had been above Bluebird Arthouse in Delano before the store closed last year.
“We’ve just been operating as a pop-up space ever since,” says Kate Van Steenhuyse, who founded Harvester Arts with her husband, Ryan Gates, and Kristin Beal a year ago.
Beal teaches art appreciation at Butler Community College while Van Steenhuyse teaches painting and drawing at Wichita State University.
Beal says their search for affordable permanent space, along with temporary space in the meantime, meant they got to know the community much better.
“It’s been really helpful,” she says.
The search led them to Old Town where they’re now preparing to open in almost 3,000 square feet in the center at the northwest corner of First and Washington where Aida’s Silver Jewelry and B. Young Salon are.
“Now we have this, and we’re thrilled,” Van Steenhuyse says. “We have all kinds of ideas percolating.”
There will be dedicated exhibition space and, on the second floor, room for workshops and classes. Harvester Arts will be available to rent for events as well.
The new space will debut during Final Friday on March 27. Van Steenhuyse says there’s not a lot of interior work they have to do before then.
“We want it to be raw,” she says.
The empty canvas will give visiting artists from around the nation a chance to do performance-based installations during two-week residencies.
“For them, it’s a chance to do something experimental,” Van Steenhuyse says. “Usually you go to an art gallery and you see an end product.”
That’s not the case with Harvester Arts. The idea, she and Beal say, is to create a deeper critical dialogue with the public in general and with local artists, who then create works in response to what the guest artists create.
“It doesn’t have to be this, ‘Ooh, the artist,’” Van Steenhuyse says. She says it could be something as simple as someone coming and having a drink with the artist.
Gates, the managing partner at Heroes in Old Town, says it was important to the group to be downtown or in the Old Town district.
“We wanted to be someplace where there already was daily foot traffic,” he says. “We wanted to be where there was activity.”
Beal says there is “immense talent” in Wichita.
“We feel like the key that was missing was process,” she says. “It was important to us to showcase things less known around here.”
Harvester Arts raises money to operate and pay artists through private donations and some grants, such as through the Arts Council.
“We’re also not trying to sell anything,” Van Steenhuyse says. “We see ourselves as a link between the local arts community and the national arts community.”
She and Beal say galleries in places such as Philadelphia and Detroit now want to do something similar and bring artists from Wichita to participate.
“So this whole thing can keep snowballing,” Van Steenhuyse says. Artists responding to each other is “something that happens naturally,” she says.
Harvester Arts brought three artists to Wichita last year and has its first planned for the new space for next month.
“All of our artists have been totally blown away by Wichita,” Van Steenhuyse says. “We’re like, yeah, duh.”
She says the new space is a “dream come true” and “a complete game changer.”
“I’m still a little shell shocked.”
Beal says that as artists, she and Van Steenhuyse are “just accustomed to this lifelong game of Whack-A-Mole.”
Van Steenhuyse explains it as resourceful artists “trying to jump at whatever opportunity arises.”
“You certainly don’t expect the sky to open like this,” Beal says.
“For something to really work out, it’s like, what?” she says. “We’re humbled and honored to be here.”