515 Art Gallery connects students with professional artists

515 Art Gallery in downtown Clare. Photo by Rick Westover.

515 Art Gallery in downtown Clare. Photo by Rick Westover.

It’s a misty, gray afternoon out front of the 515 Gallery, but for Kim Kleinhardt and her students the smiles are genuine as they set up for their latest exhibit, Tree-scape.

“Our gallery is setting up for our new show that happens on November 9th,” said Kleinhardt. “One of our artists is Sam Soet, and he is unloading his 15 foot wood sculpture out of the back of a truck. It’s going to be wheeling its way down the streets of Clare and parking itself in front of our gallery.”

“It’s the only spot where we’ve got open air, right here,” explained artist Sam Soet.

Making our way inside it’s clear excitement is building as opening night approaches. Several students are helping to move the artwork into place, Sam Soet’s large, free-form wooden sculptures, Susan Wright’s forest of white ceramic and vibrant splashes of color from Wendi Johnson’s paintings. The students are from Clare High School and their involvement has set the 515 Gallery apart from the beginning.

“My husband and I purchased this building about 5 years ago, with my dream of always having an art gallery,” said Kleinhardt. “We looked in a lot of places, but this little building in downtown Clare came available and it was just what we were looking for. I went to my principal and asked if I could have a gallery management class. He’s kind of going, ‘well, Okay!’ So we do everything from the accounting program, to rewriting the business plan each year. My students actually work with professional artists. We show professional art all year long.”

Kleinhardt’s students understand just how lucky they are to have an art gallery at their disposal.

“Everyone I talk to, no one else has ever had this kind of experience and they all say I’m really lucky and I know that I am,” said student MacKenzie VanSickle. “I love being here.”

“We get to actually meet with real artists,” said Kyleah Klenke, “and so it helps us expand our horizon on the art world and helps us grow as well.”

First-year gallery student Maeve Kuhlman also appreciates the experience.

“This is my first year in Gallery,” she explained. “For the past events I mainly do the photography and communications, which I actually enjoy a lot. It’s really fun to get to talk to people and to get to know people and interact with them.”

All three students are in Kleinhardt’s gallery management class.

“They do all the set up, all the PR,” said Kleinhardt. “We send out for our printing, but they do all the graphic design work and actually call and talk to the artists, set up contracts, do all the accounting that goes with it. Then we have the openings, which are really fun. Our community of Clare and surrounding communities, we have hundreds of people that show up for our openings.”

The students meet every day for nearly an hour and I think you can hear why they need to meet so regularly. There is a lot of work involved in generating an exhibit, and the 515 gallery shows new work every couple of months. This time the theme is Tree-scape and Gallery Management student Raven Phalen-Price says even that decision becomes a group effort.

“We normally come up with ideas as a class, where people chime in,” explained Phalen-Price. “We go with the best one and kind of meld them together. With this one, we had seen a few artists that incorporated nature in their work and so we kind of discovered other artists that went along with them.”

This fall, sculptor Sam Soet is working with the 515 Gallery for the first time.

“I really wish I had a program like this in my high school,” he said. “I’m very happy to have had the experiences I did growing up with art, but I really had no experience working in galleries, or anything like that. I think these kids are really professional and do a great job.”

Artwork lies about throughout the gallery, waiting to be placed by Kim Kleinhardt’s Gallery Management students, like Jason Mathews.

“I don’t know if you’ll be able to make it to the opening on November 9th, but it will be pretty incredible to see all this put together,” Mathews said.

Artist Spotlight: Sam Soet
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Sam Soet describes his sculptures that will be on display at the 515 Gallery.


Artist Spotlight: Wendi Johnson
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Wendi Johnson describes her paintings that will be on display at the 515 Gallery.


Artist Spotlight: Susan Wright
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Susan Wright describes her ceramics works that will be on display at the 515 Gallery.

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