Discover a nonprofit art gallery on a mission to celebrate art and music at every turn. Meet the dedicated volunteers who make this Dixon venue spin, and discover how it impacts the region.
Is it accurate to call the Mona Lisa “a painting”? Sure. But that hardly captures the essence of the masterpiece.
Likewise, the Next Picture Show (TNPS) in Dixon, Ill., 113 W. First St., is a nonprofit fine arts center serving the Rock River Valley. But it’s also a group of people on a mission to create, show, study, celebrate and teach art. And, it’s a beautiful art gallery that benefits artist and art lover alike. It’s also a place where folks come together, and an intimate venue for live performances. Finally, TNPS’s vintage space is a lovely backdrop for special events, from corporate dinners to wedding receptions.
“Everyone’s welcome here,” says Bonnie Kime, director. “It’s a community space where different kinds of people connect. Some people drop in just to relax and soak up the beautiful artwork and background music. Sometimes they bring their laptops and just hang out.”
Other times, people actually do come in to buy paintings, photographs and sculptures. Artists love exhibiting at TNPS, because it charges no commission on art sales, due to its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. It does, however, encourage artists to donate back a portion of their sales.
“And they do donate back to us, but we never know if it will be 5 percent or 20 percent or what,” says Kime. “It makes the budgeting process a challenge, but we find a way.” Private donations, fundraisers, membership dues and venue rental keep the organization afloat.
The gallery is unique in another way, too. It’s accessible, and keeps regular business hours. Children roam the space, discover art and chat about it, without being hushed. Doors are open Tuesday through Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and at other times for classes and special events. They’re even open on days when new shows are being hung, a miracle that happens about 10 times a year, thanks to a cadre of devoted volunteers.
“They operate like clockwork,” says Kime proudly. “It’s a big job, carrying out the old artwork, bringing the new art up the stairs to the main level, laying it against the walls to see what does and doesn’t work where. One group cleans, another hangs, another levels. At noon we stop and eat lunch together.” The whole process is a bit like a barn raising, as the seemingly impossible is accomplished, through teamwork, in one day.
“We never close our doors when we hang a show,” says Kime. “We want the public to understand what it takes, and to witness what can be accomplished through cooperation. It’s like history in the making. And people do come in just to watch.”
The 10 annual juried shows at TNPS attract artists from Chicago, the Midwest and beyond; they represent a wide array of styles.
“We solicit different judges for each show, mostly from Chicago, Indiana, Iowa, other parts of Illinois,” explains Kime. “Artists submit CDs or small photographs of their work. Just because one piece is accepted doesn’t mean another by the same artist will be. Each show has a theme, like ‘Your Best Friend,’ ‘Great Expectations,’ ‘Shades of Grey,’ ‘Farms and Barns.’ It’s all about the way the artist interprets that phrase.”
The jury sends out letters of acceptance and artists bring or mail their work to Kime. Among the 10 shows is an open event sponsored by the Illinois Watercolor Society, which attracts artists nationwide.
“Whenever artists come here for the first time, they’re impressed by the space, by how we operate, by the genuine passion we have for art,” says Kime. “The awareness seems to spread by word-of-mouth among artists, and that helps us to receive very high-quality submissions.”
That a small-town gallery should have such an enthusiastic following doesn’t surprise Kime. “There’s been a strong artists’ presence in our region forever,” she says. “Art colonies existed in Grand Detour and at the Eagle’s Nest near Oregon in the 1910s and ’20s. That’s one of the neat things about this place – it brings together local artists from different generations.” In fact, one local artist recently chose to spend his 100th birthday at the gallery.
Because art is viewed so subjectively, the question of what’s tasteful and suitable lingers in the air wherever it exists. The same holds true in Dixon, the hometown of conservative President Ronald Reagan. Kime does her best to bridge the chasm between artists and their critics.
“We’re a nonprofit charged with a mission to teach,” she says. “Some subjects, such as nudes, can present a dicey situation. The Sistine Chapel depicts nudes. The body is art, but you have to be very gentle in the way you present it.”
Kime was recently reminded of just how subjective art appreciation really is. “I can usually place a piece of art in a room, in my head. I can mentally decorate around it and visualize the kind of room I would like to see it in,” she explains. “But we had one piece of art in a show, not too long ago, that I thought was just awful. I could not imagine it anyplace, had no capacity to see it in any room.
“Wouldn’t you know that a woman walked through the door and immediately gravitated to that piece of art and bought it on the spot. She adored it. That was a great reminder to me about the way we all differ in our perspectives.”
Just as Kime learns from the artists she befriends, they learn from her as well. “The fact that someone paints and can sell a piece for $10,000 doesn’t mean they know everything,” she says. “Artists like to receive feedback. They want to know what people are saying, and so I tell them. I feel that I represent that artist to potential buyers.”
A natural-born people connector, Kime enjoys forging connections between art lovers and artists.
“About 99 percent of the time, artists bring their work to us in person, so I have a chance to get to know them a little bit,” she says. “The more I know about the artist, the more I transfer to the potential buyer. I get the biggest thrill out of selling a piece of art for an artist. It especially tickles me when an artist brings something in and says, ‘This isn’t for sale,’ but we find just the right buyer anyway. All artists need to sell their work.”
The 7,700-square-foot vintage building that’s home to TNPS was built in 1854 and completely renovated in 2003, thanks to local philanthropist Ralph Edgar, whose artist wife, Jane Cress Edgar, maintains a studio on the second floor. Along with open, airy spaces, the gallery features original wood floors and tin ceilings. Edgar supplied partial operating funds for three years after TNPS opened in 2004, and today the organization pays rent to Edgar. Kime credits the center’s first director, Colleen Logston, with working hard to attain 501(c)(3) status.
“Mr. Edgar generously helped us to get on our feet,” says Kime, who came to TNPS in 2007, after many years spent as director of Dixon Main Street, a downtown business organization. Especially in light of the bad economy, we’ve done very well.”
But success hasn’t come without challenges. Kime’s calendar is chock full of fundraising events for TNPS, from golf outings to vintage wine tastings, a Christmas boutique and much more.
Rental fees help to keep TNPS in the black, too. For concerts, the space comfortably seats 125 guests at bistro tables, 80 at larger round dinner tables. “Business After Business” gatherings welcome 200 to 300 local professionals, who cluster around cocktail tables in standing room only.
“It’s a space you don’t need to decorate for an event,” says Kime. “It’s already beautiful because of all the art.”
Openings for new shows attract 250 to 300 guests. Held about every six weeks, from 6 to 8 p.m. on Fridays, they involve live music, hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar. Regarding the latter, TNPS recently embarked on a mission to obtain its own liquor license.
“We had no idea how to go about that, so we spent a day in Chicago and learned the ropes,” says Kime. “Serving liquor isn’t our main function, but the license is an important asset when it comes to events. It’s a learning curve, but the gallery needs it, so we’re figuring it out.”
This can-do attitude is typical of Kime’s devotion to the gallery. As the only paid employee at TNPS, she spends most of her waking moments there, and then some. The TNPS board of directors wasn’t surprised when she asked to have a shower installed at the gallery, along with an inflatable bed.
“During one funding crunch, it was suggested that we cut back on the hours we’re open, but I said we just couldn’t do that,” says Kime. “We’ve all worked very hard to make it what it is, and we want forward progress.”
Kime’s also deeply involved with Viva!, The Next Picture Show Performing Arts School, which offers music lessons and performance opportunities to young people. Faculty members include director Kathy Hann King, who specializes in piano instruction; Tim Boles, the current artistic director of regional choral society Canterbury Singers; and Robert Campbell, who’s widely experienced in vocal solo performance, choral conducting, musical theater and teaching.
Kime has a life outside TNPS, too. Married to Edward Lynott, she has two sons, a daughter and a stepdaughter. The couple sometimes plays host to the likes of Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, because of Lynott’s 37-year career in marketing and promotions with NRG Media. But the gallery is never far from Kime’s mind. “I try to sell them art when I see them,” she says of the country music luminaries. “They’re just people, like the rest of us. They enjoy art, too.” In fact, Kime has sold art to Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn, who owns Arrington Vineyards in Tennessee and collects great wine as well as artwork.
The long hours don’t seem to discourage Kime. “I’m with these wonderful pieces of art each day, and each time I walk down the stairs and enter the space, I catch something new in one of them,” she says. “It’s one thing to come in and view art. It’s another thing entirely to live with it. I have the best job in the world. I’m blessed.”
More than a few paintings have called her name over the years. “You begin to lust after a lot of paintings,” she admits, adding a bit sheepishly, “I had to add a room onto my house to gain more wall space for paintings. I’ve always had a passion for art.”
Her passion doesn’t stop with collecting art; she also collects friends. Her talent for connecting people to each other and to needful projects is formidable. “Believe me, this place exists only because of all the people who have their fingers in it – from Mr. Edgar to the board members, volunteers, the judges who jury our shows, everyone,” she says. “It takes everybody to make it work, in anything that we do.”
TNPS takes its education mission seriously, hosting programs and classes for all ages, and working with K-12 schools. Student work is always on display in the lower gallery at TNPS.
“I recently sent out 57 letters to schools [K-12],” says Kime, who spent 11 years running an arts-rich home day care when her own children were young. “Exposure to art at a very young age enhances the whole thinking ability of a child.”
Kime also believes it benefits children to see that their communities value art and artists. “One of the neatest things I get to see is the pride a child has when he comes into the gallery and points to a piece of work on display that was made by his grandma, or dad, or someone he knows,” she says.
TNPS awards a total of $3,500 per year in savings bonds to local art students. “We use savings bonds, because we want children to see how money grows over time,” Kime explains. “It’s another aspect of our teaching mission.”
She also enjoys seeing teens and young adults come to the gallery in search of original art. “They’re making the distinction between a mass-produced, printed poster, and original art,” she says. “It’s fantastic that they want what’s original. I think there’s a real yearning for original things right now. We’re all getting tired of the mass-produced.”
Along with nurturing art lovers, TNPS is good for its city.
“This has been a huge jump-start for Dixon’s downtown,” says Kime. “Because the openings are always downtown on Friday nights, people often combine their attendance with a dinner out. Dixon has some excellent restaurants these days – Italian, Mexican, Thai. Also, when artists from throughout the region bring their paintings to us, they often grab a meal, fill up their gas tanks, browse some local shops.”
Margie Wildman agrees. She owns neighboring Baker Street Restaurant, a 7-year-old café that offers freshly roasted coffees and homemade baked goods, salads, soups and sandwiches.
“It’s always good when people have a special reason to come downtown,” says Wildman. “Our customers stop in next door to see what’s new, and people going to The Next Picture Show often stop in here for coffee or a bite to eat. The more foot traffic downtown, the better it is for all of us.”
TNPS is exhibiting “Architecture and More” through Jan. 7, 2012. The show highlights architecture in all its variations – from straight line to cupola.
“Great Expectations” will run Jan. 13 to Feb. 28, exploring common themes found in favorite books and movies.
We instinctively know there’s much more to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa than meets the eye. And it’s more than just a painting. The same can be said for The Next Picture Show, where vitality and joie de vivre – not just artwork – fill the space. ❚