Three creatives turn a vintage trailer into a hip mobile art gallery

The mini mobile gallery accommodates about five people at a time, and everything on display is tiny, with 80 pieces arranged from floor to ceiling.

click to enlarge L-R: Melissa “Mellkat” Mitchell, Ben Jason Neal and Janet Creekmore at Washington Park - Photo: Jesse Fox
Photo: Jesse Fox
L-R: Melissa “Mellkat” Mitchell, Ben Jason Neal and Janet Creekmore at Washington Park

This art space is small, but definitely not stuffy. POPP=D ART, a former pop-up gallery that used a vacant Corryville storefront to exhibit art, is now a mini mobile gallery that accommodates only about five people at a time, yet no one complained during its debut last month in Washington Park.

As visitors filed through, their smiles spread as wide as the grinning sideways emoticon incorporated into the gallery’s name. 

POPP=D ART is a different kind of art gallery. For starters, it’s on wheels and housed in a renovated 1963 Rainbow camping trailer that measures just 10-feet long, 6-feet-8-inches wide and 6-feet-4-inches high inside. 

Everything on display is tiny. None of the 80 pieces arranged from floor to ceiling is larger than one square foot. The prices also are smaller than those in a traditional gallery: $100 or less. 

You won’t find gold-framed landscape oil paintings. Much work falls into the genres of outsider, lowbrow, kitsch and pop. Some of the 20-plus artists on display went to art school; others are self-taught. The POPP=D ART team believes that all of them deserve a wider audience, and that anyone should be able to afford an original painting. 

“It doesn’t have to be in a museum to be art,” their T-shirts proclaim.

“The problem that we’re solving is making art fun,” says Janet Creekmore, a branding expert and artist who helped pitch the mobile gallery to People’s Liberty. The philanthropy awarded her team $10,000 to take their show on the road, promoting local artists and engaging communities.

Saturday, the gallery will roll up to Riddle Road Market near the University of Cincinnati. In addition to other appearances at Kennedy Heights Arts Center and Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park, the crew also plans “rogue/road days,” popping up at different locations with little or no notice all summer. 

Creekmore wants to reach what she calls “art deserts” — places such as Avondale, Bond Hill and neighborhoods on the West Side and in Northern Kentucky that are underserved by galleries and museums. Creekmore believes art is an easy first step to building a community’s economic vitality.  

“Artists can bridge any gap and start a conversation,” she says.  

Creekmore and Ben Jason Neal, her partner at Eye Candy Design in the Pendleton District, previously operated a storefront version of POPP=D ART on Short Vine with curator Melissa “Mellkat” Mitchell. The space was free, and they thought they’d organize pop-up exhibits for six months to help revive the street. They stayed two years, closing last fall to make way for the building’s renovation. 

Despite limited parking and a lack of other retail on the street, the gallery gained a following and sometimes drew 200 people to openings for up-and-coming artists. 

“We thought, ‘We can’t let this thing go away,’ ” Neal says. 

Mitchell, who curates Pop Revolution Gallery in Hamilton, scouted other locations for POPP=D ART, but rents were prohibitive. At the same time, the trio started brainstorming community-building initiatives to submit to People’s Liberty. Neal raised the idea of using the vintage trailer that had been sitting in his driveway for two years after his sister turned it over to him. 

“We knew it was perfect because people are obsessed with food trucks and tiny living,” Creekmore says. 

The New York Times reported the start of a mobile gallery trend two years ago, spotting them in the Big Apple, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Santa Fe, N.M. and Tampa, FL. After spending three months refurbishing the trailer, Creekmore, Neal and Mitchell introduced Cincinnati to “#ARTthatMOVES.”

The trio rolled out the green AstroTurf carpet last month at The City Flea in Washington Park and estimate that 500 people checked out the bright white trailer with hot-pink lettering. Unsure at first about entering something that looks like Barbie’s RV, the crowd quickly got caught up in the campy experiment. Visitors and artists lounged on the aqua bench cushions while enjoying the air conditioning inside. Teenagers went crazy over a series of Hamilton cast portraits by children’s book illustrator Christina Wald. 

Outside the trailer, kids and adults picked up brushes to contribute to a collaborative painting that POPP=D ART will bring to all its appearances. “Everyone is art,” someone wrote amid the flowers, hearts and rainbows. 

Those words might get lost as the artwork evolves, but the message is always on the minds of people involved with POPP=D ART. 

Neal, who has a design degree from Miami University, is frustrated when emerging artists can’t gain exposure at traditional galleries. “We’re trying to (help) the extremely talented artists that cannot afford art school, that are self-trained,” he says. “I spent 10 years struggling as an artist and in that time appeared in zero museums and two galleries that were not my own.”

Artist Anthony “Tank” Mansfield, who is displaying Pop Surrealist images of robots and Mr. Redlegs in the mobile gallery, shows the bulk of his work over the internet. He also started the Kneel to No One project with illustrator Jaimie Filer to do live drawing events.  

“Jaimie and I aren’t hoping that a gallery will pick us out of a stack of applications and instead have elected to carve our own path, on our own terms,” he says. 

But POPP=D ART appeals to him because it is literally bringing art to the people and breaking down stereotypes of what a gallery is. 

“If one child 10 years from now says that they started to do art because of the day the art truck came to their neighborhood, then I think this venture is a success,” Mansfield says.

Creekmore and friends hope to obtain additional funding to keep the mobile gallery rolling next year, maybe into Columbus, Ohio, Indianapolis and Louisville, Ky. But attracting even four people during an hour-long “rogue day” stop here this summer will make Creekmore happy. 

There are families that can’t afford or don’t have transportation to art centers, she says, adding, “Just being able to engage them will make me feel accomplished.”

POPP=D ART visits Riddle Road Market 7-10 p.m. Saturday. More info:

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