Once a year, a long line starts to form outside the Kettle Art gallery in Deep Ellum an hour or so before the place opens. The line snakes down the street with a stream of very patient people.
“People start lining up at 5:30 p.m. or a quarter to 6 p.m.,” says gallery founder Frank Campagna. “Last year, we had people show up at 1:30 p.m. in the afternoon with lawn chairs and coolers. The line always goes over to Commerce Street before we even open the door.”
The annual For The Love of Kettle event that returns this Saturday starting at 7 p.m. attracts the kind of crowd similar in size to the one that waits to buy the newest iPhone on launch day outside of an Apple store. The gallery’s annual day gives customers a literal once-in-a-year chance to buy a 12 by 12-inch work of art from some of Dallas’ newest and best artists. It’s a crucial day for the gallery as well.
“Kettle is a phenomenon,” Campagna says. “It’s not the only gallery in town by any means, but it’s local art and one of the longest-running.”
Kettle Art has been operating out of Deep Ellum since 2005 as a “launch pad” for Texas artists who find it difficult or even near impossible to get any gallery to show their work to the public.
“It’s hard to find a gallery to work with you,” says artist Mahsa Moein, who started working with the gallery in 2018. “Kettle Art is so friendly and welcoming to me. [Other galleries are] so competitive and not open to new art. This is the good thing about Kettle. They accepted me and welcomed me and helped me find my place here.”
As an artist and muralist himself whose work can be seen all over the city, Campagna says the gallery is designed to be a place that shows Dallas the talent it has right in its backyard.
“I wanted to be inclusive and knock the stuffing out of art galleries,” Campagna says. “I wanted a place that played rock and punk. I just wanted it to be Texas only. One of the frustrating things about Dallas is Dallas is a nice city. To me, I always look at Dallas as being a nice small town. It’s just weird to raise up great artists, and the first thing they do is pack up their bags and move to New York or LA or something.”
Campagna says Kettle Art started in Deep Ellum at a time when it wasn’t so bustling.
“Different property owners came to me and said, ‘What are we going to do to fix it?’” he says. “I said, ‘That’s easy, go back to the roots.’”
Kettle Art started on Elm Street before moving to its current home on Main Street. The gallery has shown and sold works from artists like painter and printmaker Judith Lea Perkins, surreal sculptor Sergio Garcia, and performance artist Erica Felicella.
“Kettle has always allowed me to stretch my wings,” Felicella says. “There’s not many ideas they are not willing to talk to me about. In the early days, we did all kinds of things together and talked about things together, and as us old timers started to grow in our careers, Frank welcomed us with open arms and let us challenge ourselves with our practice.”
Campagna’s mission to welcome new artists and challenge them to be better than they thought they could ever be is also the secret that’s kept Kettle Art running year after year.
“There’s a lot of love, a lot of people,” Campagna says. “It’s kind of like a family in a way. I really insist on artists. First, I just need to look at their stuff, and if I like their personality and direction…I’ll give feedback on them. I’ll bring in their art, and other artists will help point them in the right direction, and they help each other. It’s cool, very organic.”
Felicella says Kettle Art’s success comes from Campagna’s “tenacity” in keeping his doors open to new artists who want a shot at sharing their visions.
“It’s just a different model than any other gallery in the entire city, and as it’s grown, the artists are the ones who show up,” Felicella says. “It’s a family as opposed to a roster, and with it, we all give back to the space because it’s given so much to us.”
The For the Love of Kettle art sale starts at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Kettle Art, located at 2650-B Main St.