To Witter Gallery's newest director, arriving to work every day is less like a job and more like an inspiration.
Since becoming director of the Gallery May 21, Storm Lake native Amanda Kelly has immersed herself in what she loves best, and wouldn't miss a moment of it. In her third week on the job, Kelly encourages others to become involved in the arts as well.
"I didn't do this just to have a job," Kelly said. "I love the arts and I think this gallery is a great asset to Storm Lake, and I want people to get involved and become aware of the arts."
The daughter of Ken and Deanna Russell and a 1998 graduate of Storm Lake High School, Kelly graduated from Buena Vista University in May with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art Management. Immediately upon graduation, she applied for the position to replace former Witter Gallery director Joleen Dentlinger, who is now a full time graphic designer at Silk Screen Ink. Kelly was hired from a pool of several candidates for the job, and jumped
into the position with both feet.
As director, she and Assistant Director Mary Massa are now responsible for calling on artists, organizing exhibitions, gallery publicity, managing daily operations at the gallery, and organizing and hosting special events. As the gallery is booked for artists until well into next year, the two are currently investing the majority of their time into organizing the Children's Art Fair as part of the Star Spangled Spectacular this July 4.
Although Kelly began her new position with a workload, she is no stranger to the world of art management. Kelly credits her senior year of work study in Witter Gallery, as well as internships in art galleries including the Sioux City Arts Center, Des Moines Arts Center and Lakes Arts Center in Okoboji, for the necessary training to do her job, which she sees as a stepping stone before choosing and attending a graduate school for art history a year from August. Kelly's final career goal is to teach art history at the college level.
"I've also traveled frequently to other museums to become informed," Kelly said. "I see this job as an excellent starting base for other jobs in the future after graduate school."
Kelly cites her love for the arts among many reasons for taking the job, and includes Van Gogh, Bernini, and Edward Hopper as her favorite artists.
"Hopper's work just makes me want to go to the east coast and lay on the beach," she said.
Kelly said that her education in the field of art has made her see many works from in an entirely different light.
"There are ways to tell what a painting is about," she said. "Even if a painting is abstract, there's always some sort of message the artist is trying to get across."
Kelly said some art has even stirred her emotionally, including two works she viewed while interning at the Des Moines Art Center.
"In the gallery there was an enormous painting of nylon ladders, the kind that hang from helicopters," she said. "At the bottom, there were a pair of ballerina slippers, but everything else was gray. In front of this painting were sculptures of boys' bodies made out of burlap. When you stood among them it was almost eerie, like standing among soldiers. With the painting in the background, it was almost like the holocaust, and you could just feel the tragedy of all of it."
Not only does Kelly consider herself a patron of the arts, but she frequently creates her own pieces, including abstract oil paintings and pieces of pottery. However, she said she would never think of showing her works in the gallery.
"It's personal," she said. "The way some people journal to let out their emotions, I paint, and I couldn't show that."
Although Kelly was not a fan of the arts from the beginning, she credits past art instructors throughout her school years for her current involvement with a variety of artworks.
"To be honest, I hated art in elementary school, but when I entered middle school, Melissa Michaelson-Gard got me involved in art, and then came Ron Netten in high school," Kelly said. "Probably my main influence was my professor, Dennis Dykema, who really got me into art history. He's having a show next month here, so I'm really excited for that."
As director of Witter Gallery, Kelly strongly encourages the public to visit the gallery, adjacent to the Storm Lake Public Library on Cayuga Street, to view the works of art free-of-charge.
"Not every community this size is fortunate enough to have a gallery this size with exhibitions every month and a permanent collection," Kelly said. "It's patrons, members and volunteers that really make this place happen."
As far as her current circumstances are concerned, Kelly wouldn't trade them for the world.
"I have the best job," Kelly said. "I'm immersed in art all day long, and best of all, I don't have to sit in a cubicle."