Lemon Street infuses Kenosha with art, opportunity
Lemon Street Gallery and Art Space, Inc., 4601 Sheridan Rd., Kenosha, is an artists collective which currently has 75 members. The non-profit organization engages in arts education and advocacy, developing artists and promoting their art in Kenosha and across Wisconsin.
The gallery is currently running a holiday show, which will go through Saturday, Dec. 24. Billed as "giftable art," the holiday show is the only one the gallery puts on that offers non-member art. The art in the holiday show is all priced under $100, and includes knits as well as jewelry, prints and more.
Melanie Hovey is a painter and one of the founders of Lemon Street, which opened in 1999. She says Lemon Street is "definitely about art, but mostly about artists."
As the current director of Lemon Street, Hovey spends a great deal of her time writing grants and developing opportunities for artists. She says Lemon Street focuses not only on making better artists but also better entrepreneurs.
"We want our members to explore in their hearts, in their minds, what they'd like to do with their art," says Hovey.
Lemon Street has three paid staff positions. A 13-member board of directors oversees the $100,000 annual budget. The gallery sells between 50 and $60,000 a year in art with 80 percent of that going back to the artists.
Not bad for an organization that began with five artists sitting around a table saying, "Wouldn't it be nice if we could show together?"
Hovey says they place great importance on being team players in the neighborhood, which has seen hard times but improves every year, on collaborating with other organizations and on networking.
As the development coordinator of the Kenosha Union Park Project (KUPP), which is operated out of the gallery, Hovey can make sure the neighborhood component of their mission is carried out. KUPP provides free wi-fi to neighborhood kids in Union park, which is just down the street from the gallery, as well as gardens and art like large mosaic planters.
The mosaic project involved two lead artists from Lemon Street, a few adults and 30 kids from the neighborhood.
Many of the kids attend Washington Middle School, which is north of the gallery a few blocks on Sheridan Road. Each middle schooler receives an Apple laptop to use throughout the school year, paid for by a federal program. But the kids in this low-income neighborhood often can't go online at home.
KUPP was awarded a community development block grant, providing the funds to build two towers, one on the Lemon Street building and another on top of Pete's Place, a bar across the street from Union Park.
The Lemon Street gallery's building was built in 1919 at the corner of Sheridan and what was then Lemon Street. In 1926 the city of Kenosha changed many of the named streets to numbered ones (Lemon is now 46th Street). Built as a bakery, the building has a long history, being home to two salons and becoming the Beer Depot in 1945. The Beer Depot's sign was painted over to make the Lemon Street sign.
There's a ceramics studio in the basement and a classroom on the main floor. The gallery space is three rooms. All the art in the first two rooms is switched out entirely every three months for new art. The third room showcases the art of a different member every month. Each member of the collective gets the opportunity to be featured every other year.
Lemon Street conducts many after-school programs with kids at Washington and Harborside High School, a charter whose art teacher actually has a key to the gallery because the high schoolers use it so often. The artists at Lemon Street partner with UW-Parkside to offer art classes in the community throughout the year.
Lemon Street currently contracts with 10 organizations to place its members' art in various work environments. Like the art in the gallery, this workplace art is switched out every three months. Much of it is placed at Harborside Common Grounds, 5169 6th Ave., Kenosha, a coffee shop that will sell the art right off its walls, which is part of the agreement with Lemon Street.
Other companies exchange services for art, like Minuteman Press, which provides free printing of Lemon Street's flyers and posters every month. Some corporations pay Lemon Street for art shows at their campuses, but most have some sort of reciprocal agreement, another being WGTD, the local Wisconsin Public Radio affiliate, which provides website and on-air advertising in exchange for its art.
Lemon Street believes in all kinds of partnerships, as members of the Wisconsin Arts Board, Wisconsin Visual Artists and Arts Wisconsin, they've helped four other galleries get started by providing organizational documents and sharing what they've learned.
Lemon Street also hangs art in the Kenosha-area legislators' Madison offices.
"I feel that if they have constituent art there, they'll understand more how art matters, how it makes a difference," says Hovey.
Hovey says that for "all intents and purposes" she's from Kenosha. Her family moved there from Champaign, Ill., when she was 8. That was 50 years ago. Hovey and her husband own several properties around Kenosha.
Hovey's husband is also a welder who makes ornamental iron railings and has recently been welding 10-foot tall people out of scrap metal.
"He's an artist, but he doesn't own it," says Hovey, meaning he refuses to see himself as an artist.
Hovey, who wasn't paid the first seven years as director of Lemon Street, would like to focus more on her painting and has threatened the gallery's board that she really will quit – within a couple years.
Hovey is proud of her role in including technology at the gallery, such as providing QR codes for each artist (those ink-blot things smart phones can scan that give information, often by taking the user to a website).
"A lot of galleries don't use technology and I've always been surprised by that. Using things like the QR codes helps engage young people's interest in local art," says Hovey.
After the holiday show in January, Lemon Street will begin its "Second Saturdays" series, at which the artists begin the new year with clean studios by selling what's in them at deep discounts.
The gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. It is closed Monday and Tuesday.
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