Tonight, December 13th, will be the 13th or 14th annual $20 Art Show. this year's will be hosted at Copper & Kings in Butchertown. A little while back the LEO magazine asked me to write up a history of the show which I will share with you here:
Mike Ratterman (sculptor/Funeral Director) and Mike McCoy (multimedia artist/recluse) were living on the second floor in an old warehouse in Smoketown and in the late 90s began putting on art shows there of their work and the work of their friends. they called the place The 953 Gallery after the address, 953 South Clay street. in 1999 I had a glass and photography exhibit at Gallerie Hertz that Ratterman attended so he tracked me down and asked if i'd like to have a show at 953. I didn't know either Mikes at that point but I did a show with them and by the following year I was living there. By this point Ratterman had moved upstairs to the top floor with me and his cousin Kevin Ratterman and McCoy took over the second floor.
As apposed to the second floor that was mostly concrete and steel, the top floor was all wood with 30 foot ceilings and looked like the belly of a clipper ship. It was mostly one large room, with smaller rooms off to the side that we used as bedrooms, and Kevin turned one into a recording studio. By now Mike R. and I were planing shows monthly along with our friend Leticia (Letty) Quesenberry the painter. we also incorporated live music (with the help of Kevin) to the events and they had grown into large 400-500 person parties. But the art was getting attention and the LEO and Currier Journal were reviewing the work.
One thing that was very noticeable was that every show had a dedicated audience that supported us by coming to every event, helping clean up, etc. but were not in an economic position to buy the artwork. I thought this was outrageous that our biggest supporters couldn't afford the work, and that owning artwork was (and still is) mostly for a privileged few in our society. So I came up with an idea to have our artists design quality work that could be sold for $20 each (the house didn't take a cut), and have the show right before Christmas, so folks could buy presents, and also the artists would have some extra cash for the holidays.
The first event I believe had mike, Letty, me, Mike McCoy, Albertus Gorman, and some others in the show. All our shows back then started at 9pm, but for the $20 art show we had people showing up 4 or 5 hours early in order to ensure they got some work. they were buying it before we could hang them. I think 90% of the work had sold before 9pm, so we decided pretty quickly to make it an annual event. I think we did it 2 more years, adding Scott Scarsboro, Shane Hull, and others. Most of us made the same work we normally do, just at a smaller size. I was doing my acid etch glass panels, but at 5" x 9" instead of 5' x 9'. Scarsboro made little robots that ran around and lit up and made noise. Shane made tiny dollhouse sized tables with little plates of food on them. Ratterman took giant polished rocks hanging from wires from the rafters and people cut them down for $20 each, I still see them hanging in trees and off of porches in people's yards. It was a good time.
After a few years Mike R joined the family business and moved out and the recording studio was doing well and expanded into the entire 3rd floor so it was time for me to move on as well. I found an old barber shop on main street to live and work out of and that was that for the 953 gallery. That winter I walked by Scott Scarboro's newly opened Cinderblock Gallery on Main st and saw he was doing the Annual $20 art show. At first i was offended that he had done this without asking us, but I was young and easily offended back then. The truth is it should keep going. Every art gallery should have an art show every year where anyone can afford the work. the Art world should not be just for a select group who can afford high prices, it should be for anyone who appreciates it and would like art in their lives. It would be nice to see every gallery in NULU do an annual December $20 art collective, like how the Louisville Photo Bi-annual is done. Anyway, I guess the $20 Art Show is in it's 14th or 15th year. Scott isn't doing it anymore, although he did a great job, I don't know who is putting it on at this point, but Mike R and I have both gotten calls and emails asking us about it. I'm glad it's still going on, It would be nice though if Mike, Letty, and I were invited to be a part of it some how, regardless I hope it continues and more galleries incorporate it into their Christmas fold.