Student Owns Deep Ellum Gallery

Student Kevin Rubén Jacobs owns an art gallery - and he doesn't have a degree yet.

Kevin Rubén Jacobs is a typical art student -- he studies hard, works hard, and spends most of his time creating something.

But there's another, bigger project sitting under his belt -- in the form of a gritty building bordering the Deep Ellum Arts District.

The 22-year-old North Richland Hills native runs his own art gallery, and hasn't even earned his degree yet.

The Oliver Francis Gallery, nestled in the re-developing area near downtown Dallas and Fair Park, is an experimental 1,000 square-foot art space. It aims to show current work and projects by local artists that engages, challenges and pushes boundaries.

"I’m trying to show the work of local artists, who I deeply admire and and respect -- artists that produce new and fresh experiences, installations and performances," he said.

Jacobs, an art and philosophy student at the University of Texas at Arlington, said he always wanted to have his own studio space for creating art. After searching all semester for properties, the idea of showing art occurred to him in May when he found his dream space on Peak Street.

“I walked in for the first time and I knew it,” he said.

Although the brown-bricked, rustic building looked a little dingy at first, Jacobs said he felt a good energy from it and knew he could turn it into something great.

“I learned to make things happen for myself," he said. “I don’t need a degree to own a gallery.”

The student is only two classes away from earning his Bachelor's degree this December, so when he's not working his full-time job as collections assistant and educational programmer at the Goss-Michael Foundation, he's keeping himself busy in managing his gallery.

"I do it for the community," he said. "It’s for students, the general public, anyone who’s interested in art, artists -- it’s for them, it’s not for me. I just run the place."

Jacobs has only been seriously practicing art for two years. But in these two years, Jacobs has already exhibited in a juried show at the 500X Gallery, studied art classes abroad in Argentina, and been featured in various exhibitions at UTA galleries.

His current venture isn’t the first time he’s tackled a big project - he organized an art exhibition inside someone's house and gained access for a night to the historic Vandergriff building for his own solo exhibit.

"You don’t need a degree to do these things, you just need to be dedicated," he said.

The pieces in the gallery are temporary installations such as painting murals that last two weeks and get painted over again, or scrap wood and found objects fashioned into sculptures that are broken down into pieces after the exhibit is over. Installations come, and they go. “This is a place for art that exists in flux,” he added.

The gallery also serves as a studio for a week prior to the opening, where the exhibiting artist can work within the space and create works at the gallery.

"There’s further engagement with the physical space. A lot of the work gets born within the space and eventually dies with the coming of another installation,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs has his friends and family to thank for good feedback, energy and advice in pursuing his dreams. He said he's especially thankful for the courage given to him by his professors at UTA like Stephen Lapthisophon, who had no idea that he was even running a gallery until it's opening reception.

Lapthisophon, artist and senior art lecturer in the Art and Art History department at UTA, said he's proud of Jacob's initiative for creating his space and giving the opportunity to other good artists to share their work.

"Artists need to take control of their own chances for exhibiting and presenting their work. I hope it spawns more 'do-it-yourself' spaces," he said.
Jacobs said he plans to continue working at the Goss-Michael Foundation for a few more years while developing an art portfolio to send in to graduate schools in New York City and London.

But back here in the Dallas art scene, he hopes to continue to interact with the local artists and encourage them to do more experimental projects. Since his gallery doesn't operate commercially, the art shown doesn’t have money or transaction hanging over it’s head.

"It’s a different experience when you go into a place and nothing is for sale. It’s just made to be experienced, not made to be bought," he added. "I want people to engage with the work and to really appreciate it on it’s terms as being something that is just produced to be experienced."

The next exhibition, Compensation Assembly 1993 - 2008, runs from September 10 to September 30 and features local artist Jesse Morgan Barnett. Barnett is an MFA graduate of UT Arlington, has exhibited nationally and internationally, and is represented by the Marty Walker Gallery in Dallas. The opening reception for the exhibit is from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday Sept. 10.

Oliver Francis Gallery
209 Peak St.
Dallas, TX 75226
Gallery Hours: By appointment
Twitter: @ofgallery

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