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Community Art Gallery opens in Shawnee Mall

Kelci McKendrick

In the Shawnee Mall, two brick and stone columns lead into a bright, colorful store with paintings, ceramics and jewelry on display in the windows and shelves and lining the paneled walls inside. 

The new Community Art Gallery not only gives local artists an outlet to sell their artwork but also provides the Shawnee community with a place to meet all their artistics desires to paint anything they want.

“Everyone’s an artist deep inside,” said co-founder and curator of the gallery Scott Baird. “Every single person has it in them. You can put that hurt on canvas, you can put that happy on canvas, you can put those deep thoughts on canvas.”

The new gallery opened on June 6 and offers specific classes, such as pour painting, landscape painting and mosaics, and open paint sessions, where anyone can buy a canvas for $5 and paint whatever they want. Along with classes, the gallery has artwork for sale inside from local artists.

The gallery also puts childrens’ artwork on the walls, too, and is even displaying kids’ art in the front window in the “kids corner.”

“Our motto — if we had one — is ‘art for everyone,’” Baird said. “We’re putting (the kids’) art all over the walls … and we changed our featured artist to the kids of Shawnee, and we placed (their artwork) right in the window.”

The gallery opened just recently, but the idea for it began about three years ago when Baird and Sebrina Lynam, co-founder and curator of the gallery, met through Studio112andahalf, which opened its physical location in October 2016 and closed it in August 2018, according to a Visit Shawnee press release.

Baird said after its closure, the art movement in Shawnee started dying down, leaving artists without a place to show their work.

“What’s an art community without a place to hang,” Baird said. “There’s no giant refrigerator to put your stuff on, and an art community doesn’t thrive in the dark.”

But, in 2018, artist Charles Clark Kiktode — who helps out from the background with the gallery and whose artwork is for sale there — created the group Ars Prima so members could discuss art and share their own work.

Baird and Lynam joined Ars Prima, and soon they started painting on easels out on sidewalks, eventually forming the group the Shawnee Sidewalk Artists, Lynam said. The group would go to pop-up shows and to Shawnee’s “3rd Friday Block pARTy,” where local restaurants, art galleries and merchants stay open late so the community can find unique pieces of art and enjoy food, all with live performers and musicians providing entertainment, according to Travel OK.

Baird and Lynam were making waves with their involvement in the art movement in Shawnee. Baird said the mall liked what they were doing with the art community in Shawnee, so it reached out and gave them an empty store to host a three-day art show on March 13-15. 

Following the successful show, the mall offered the gallery a permanent place in the mall, right next to the old Candyopolis store and the food court.

Right after finding a permanent home for the gallery, the mall closed on March 25 due to COVID-19, leaving Baird and Lynam worried that the gallery opening might not happen.

Lynam said the mall assured them that the gallery had a secure place, and once the mall reopened, the gallery continued its plan to open. Lynam said she, Baird and other staff got to work cleaning up the place, putting a fresh coat of paint on the walls and setting everything up.

“It just kind of happened naturally,” Baird said. “Once phase three of openings happened, we just all came back together.”

Still, COVID-19 has changed how the gallery is operating. Masks are optional, and social distancing is practiced. Baird said the gallery is keeping occupancy at about 10 people — sometimes 20 with the room divided. After the gallery closes at night, the employees sterilize everything.

But it’s all worth it for Baird and Lynam. From the time and patience it took to open the gallery to COVID-19 restrictions, the Community Art Gallery is an exciting opportunity for them and for Shawnee.

“(The gallery) a new beginning — it’s like any new adventure,” Lynam said. “Our impact of all of this is going to create more. It’s going to inspire that young person to paint. It’s going to inspire that person who hasn’t picked up a paintbrush in years to pick up a brush … and do what they do.”

The Community Art Gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 12-6 p.m. on Sunday. If a class runs past mall hours, the gallery will still stay open to allow the class to finish, Baird said. Dates and prices for classes can be found at the gallery or on Facebook.