What happened to the Queen City’s art scene & how can we get it back?

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Kevin J. Kintner, artist and owner of ARGH Gallery, with fused glass artist Verne Orlosk at ARGH Gallery. Photo/Pat Hammond

MANCHESTER, NH — It’s a Thursday evening at the ARGH Gallery at 416 Chestnut St. and a steady stream of cars crawl by.

Foot traffic outside is light, but the evening is cool and a few people pop their heads in the door to see what’s going on.

Local artist and ARGH Gallery owner Kevin Kintner says it’s pretty typical. People are attracted by the color and the crowd inside but are hesitant about entering.

It’s a situation fused glass artist Verne Orlosk of Studio Verne knows firsthand. She says her work is mainly sold in galleries, but she maintains a glass studio around the corner at 81 Hanover Street.

She’s right across from the Palace Theatre and Greater Manchester Chamber. You’d think it would be a prime location for people to stop by and browse on their way to dinner or the theater, but they don’t.

It’s the fear of the unknown. What if they show an interest in a piece but can’t afford it? What if they don’t understand a painting?

They’re valid questions, but not worth worrying about. Art is subjective and each person brings a unique perspective.

Seeing something different from what the artist intended is an opportunity to start a conversation, not a sign of ignorance.

Orlosk yearns for the opportunity to share her passion and have these conversations with people. It’s one of the reasons she has a public studio.

Her work has been featured in NH Magazine and NH Chronicle. (Show airs Wednesday, October 16 at 7 p.m. on WMUR) and she can fill the room with people for glass workshops, but she can’t seem to entice pedestrians to stop by and say “hi.”

“I’ve tried everything. I even had my equipment in the front window so people could see me working.”

And still, people walked by.

It’s symptomatic of the city’s apathy when it comes to the arts.

Art is meant to be the gentle prod that reminds us to step back and enjoy the moment.

Verne Orlosk working in her storefront window in September, hoping to attract some attention. Courtesy Photo

It’s the spark that encourages new ideas and helps us shift our focus and change the status quo. And with heavy hitters like the Currier Museum of Art, New Hampshire Institute of Art, and the Palace Theatre you’d think that Manchester would be a natural destination for art and culture in the state.

But we’re not.

Nashua and Portsmouth, whose combined population is smaller than Manchester’s[1], both have thriving art communities.

They have organized art walks, galleries, orchestras, ballet, and pretty much any entertainment or creative outlet you could imagine.

Even Concord manages to fill the spaces between government office buildings with sculpture, entertainment, and art.

So why does Manchester struggle?

Kintner says he thinks there is “a complacency because of the Currier.”

We have this fabulous museum in the middle of the city and people feel like they’re supporting the arts because they buy a membership or go to see a special exhibit, but it doesn’t trickle down to support local artists.

Manchester has painters, people who play music, sing songs, and write poetry, but we struggle to support them because the one thing we don’t have is an arts community.

It’s an oversight that Kintner means to change.

After the closing of the Stelling Gallery earlier this year on Hanover Street after a one-year run, Kintner took stock.

He says 27 artists have shown work at the ARGH Gallery since it opened in June 2018.

“I’d like people to know they’re welcome to come by,” but it’s a challenge to get people in the door to see the work and engage with the artists.

He says artists need help when it comes to marketing and event planning. They tend to be introverts and many don’t have the skill or aptitude to promote themselves.

Fellow artist and local real estate developer Amy Chhom agrees, “Art is a solo occupation, but artists need a community to thrive.” And she’s backing this belief by launching the $20 million dollar Factory on Willow project to provide residential and retail space where creatives and business people can mingle, provide support, and share ideas.

Kintner is starting smaller. He wants to create a non-profit and convert the ARGH Gallery into an affordable artist cooperative.

With as few as 15 members, the monthly cost would only be $80 per person which is incredibly reasonable for commercial space downtown.

In addition to providing street-level gallery space in the heart of Manchester’s cultural district, Kintner sees the co-op providing the framework to organize special events like art walks and holiday shows, hosting classes, and “critique” nights for members.

He thinks they may even be able to convert some of the downstairs storage space into a studio for members to work.

He’s put a lot of thought into the idea, but the clock is ticking. There is a commitment deadline of October 31st which will give him enough time to file the paperwork with the state and set up the banking so he can provide the documentation of financial stability to the landlord by December.

For more information about Kintner’s co-op, you can reach him at kjkintner@arghgallery.com

1. US Census Bureau: Population for Nashua is 89,246, Portsmouth 21,896, and Manchester 112,525

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