When Ken Juon retired from the paper mill a few years back, concentrating on doing more fishing was his primary focus. But a peek inside the former Federal building in downtown Rhinelander reveals a different story. Ken, who is the president of the ArtStart gallery, is likely to greet visitors while brushing off the telltale white powder of a drywaller.
That’s because the inside of this majestic structure is undergoing big renovations to house the ArtStart organization and art exhibits. “We opened our first exhibit last summer with works from contemporary artists and then we hosted the Impact-Experience of Service exhibit which featured veteran related art,” Ken said.
Those two shows proved to be a success and more than 900 people came through to view these art exhibits. But Ken and the ArtStart board always had bigger dreams and those are becoming a reality now. “When we opened, we wanted to see how the concept of an art museum would be received,” he said. “We were impressed with the numbers that came through the doors last year, but our goal is to get even more people interested in art and coming through here.”
ArtStart opened last July and the art exhibits were set up in the building with only minor changes to the interior. But in the last few weeks, walls have been torn down, drywall has been installed and now the space has an open and airy feel. Part of that is due to light that streams through the large and impressive arched windows throughout the first floor of this building. With this renovation, ArtStart will include three art galleries of varying sizes. “This will give us the option of having one big exhibit or three smaller ones,” said Ken. “One gallery is about 1,000 square feet and the other two are about 600 and 400 square feet.”
One space that Ken is particularly excited about is a community lounge where visitors can enjoy wireless computer options and, in the future, maybe even a cup of joe. “We’re remodeling it with a space for a coffee and gift shop down the road,” he said. “There will be a place for tables and chairs, and people will be able to come here and relax while working on their computer or just visiting with friends.”
The coffee and gift shop space was included to make the ArtStart program sustainable. In addition, there are three rooms that will be suitable to rent out as other income-producing areas. Currently, the Northwoods School of Dance occupies the lower level of the building. There is also a large conference room undergoing renovation that will be rented out. “So far, we have basically been operating on contributions and donations from individuals,” said Ken. “When we started this project, we wanted to make sure we could sustain it through times when contributions could slow down.”
Renovating the space has been a “down and dirty” job. “We’ve already filled four dumpsters,” said Ken. “While we did hire out the drywalling, most of the demolition and rebuilding has been done by volunteers. We really have a very enthusiastic group and they have been doing a fantastic job.”
And while the inside of the building is getting a facelift, for now the outside of the structure will retain its integrity. “This building is eligible for becoming included on the National Registry of Historic buildings,” said Ken. “It was built in 1920 and served as Rhinelander’s post office until 1968, and then it became the Federal building and housed the U.S. Forest service.” The building belongs to the city of Rhinelander and the ArtStart group rents it for $1 per year.
Before coming to Rhinelander, Ken himself was an artist in New York. He was a sculptor, so he knows the ins and outs of creating art, but making spaces for other artists to show off their work has put him on quite a learning curve. “One of the more technical aspects of showing art is getting it here,” he said. “Last summer, we went on a road trip to southern Wisconsin and picked up the works of several artists for our first showing. It was very interesting and lots of fun.”
The ArtStart board decides on a theme for an exhibit first and then determines what to showcase in an exhibit. “In the veteran’s exhibit we had over 18 artists participate from all over the United States including Ohio, New York and Washington State,” said Ken.
Ken and his crew are working hard to get everything finished by the first of April when they anticipate reopening. Planned for this summer is an exhibition on the art of hunting and fishing and there’s no doubt this exhibit will inspire and impress visitors, especially showcased against the newly-remodeled museum. “This is such a perfect spot for an art museum,” said Ken. “Our hope is that this will become a community space for everyone to enjoy for years to come.”
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