Kehler Liddell Artist Takes The Reins

Tracey Rose PhotoLiz Antle-O’Donnell won’t have to learn a roster of new names in her new position at Kehler Liddell Gallery. But she hopes to have new names coming through the door before the end of the year.

Earlier this month, Antle-O’Donnell was officially named the new gallery director at Kehler Liddell, a member-owned and operated art gallery in New Haven’s Westville neighborhood.

First founded by eight artists in 2003, the cooperative currently has a membership of 20. Antle-O’Donnell said the gallery is hoping to grow that number in the coming months and years.

Antle-O’Donnell has been a member-artist since 2013 and the gallery’s programming coordinator since February 2016. Prior to her time at Kehler Liddell, she worked and volunteered with Site Projects Inc., Creative Arts Workshop, Neighborhood Music School, and the City of New Haven’s Percent for Art program. For the past few year, she has watched as the gallery made do without “that central person really coordinating everything,” piecing together member exhibitions and programming with member-artists who worked on a part-time basis.

Then in February 2016, Kehler Liddell partnered with the ArtEcon Initiative, a not-for-profit outgrowth of ArtLoftsWest (ArLoW), which seeks to provide affordable artist’s housing in Westville. The idea behind ArtEcon is part democratizing, part economically stimulating the arts, said Antle-O’Dennell. With a Mayor’s Community Arts Grant to the initiative, the gallery was able to add monthly storytime events, family movie nights, and family-friendly workshops to a schedule that already included artist’s talks, portfolio reviews and a burgeoning apprenticeship program.

In an interview, Antle-O’Donnell said it is important to her to keep those events free and open to the public whenever possible. She said that gallery membership, which includes a juried application process and monthly dues, is just one aspect of what Kehler Liddell does. So too is engaging the community at large.

Last week, that meant showing a group of 27 eighth graders from Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School around the exhibition Vanishing before it closed on Oct. 8. On other days, it has taken the form of pint-sized bodies moving around the gallery during Toto Kisaku’s “Le Petit Studio,” or a kids-only dance workshop from singer and songwriter Thabisa Rich. 

“This year we’re really trying to make an effort [with accessibility],” she said. “We’re working to organize more regularly scheduled programs for all ages, from very young to adult, all free. So far we’ve been fortunate enough to offer that.”

“That’s coming from a very genuine place,” she continued. “We have a lot of teachers and professors among us [as members], and I think people are very genuine about creating opportunities to share art with broader, wider audiences.”

To subsidize that slate of free programming, the gallery has used funds from a 2017 Mayor’s Neighborhood Cultural Vitality Grant, as well as its partnership with ArtEcon and a crowdfunded campaign.  It is also continuing to rent out the space for special events, as it did for Clinton campaign events last fall. Even with budgetary hurdles ahead, Antle-O’Donnell said that she hopes to keep programming free, so that New Haveners of all economic backgrounds can access it.

“I’m honored and excited to work with the gallery in new ways,” she said. “I really admire all of the artists here – and as a New Haven native, I have been admiring a few of them for some time.”

This article first appeared in The Arts Paper, a digital daily and print monthly of The Arts Council of Greater New Haven, with which the New Haven Independent is in a content share. To check out The Arts Paper’s new website or subscribe to a weekly arts newsletter, click here.

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