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Young artists foster new approach to the art gallery

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The exterior of The Artery Collective on the evening of their inaugural gallery showing in May of this year. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ARTERY COLLECTIVE

By Michael Somerby EBS STAFF

BOZEMAN – Sam Jenkins and Nick Tenney, 21 and 23 years old, respectively, are shaking things up in the Bozeman art scene.

Jenkins, an actively enrolled student at Montana State University, and Tenney, a 2018 MSU grad, are precocious, to say the least, a fact backed by their shared project: The Artery Collective.

It’s fitting that The Artery Collective, a mixed-use space that serves as a gallery, rentable studio and workshop, be located at 48 Intrepid Drive, roughly 5 miles west of downtown Bozeman, as the two young founders are indeed undaunted.

Artists Sara Saxton (blue metal circle paintings) and Siri Devlin (paintings on the wooden partition) highlight the breadth of styles and mediums on display. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ARTERY COLLECTIVE

In an industry dominated by those who are more seasoned, two individuals with a combined age of 44 owning a gallery is pretty atypical. And by providing artists of all backgrounds and talents a space for representation and creative growth, Jenkins and Tenney take a break from the well-established world of art galleries that tend to favor “discovered” artists with standing accolades and followings. They also provide an avenue for employment through a novel creative agency model, connecting artists with fielded gigs appropriate to their talents.

“A big motivation for this project is bridging the gap in the art world, that high-end traditional vibe you see on Main Street. For a lot of artists, it’s very unattainable,” Tenney said. “Going through art school, a lot of artists told us you have to wait to be ‘discovered’ … it’s not something you can try for and have and be fruitful, you just get lucky with it.”

In a field as subjective as art, that breakthrough moment can at times feel nebulous and contrived, so Jenkins and Tenney founded The Artery Collective over a year and a half ago to function as a bastion of change in the Bozeman scene, giving artists, particularly young ones, opportunity.

“It’s not a priority of ours to only represent people of that [young] age, but it’s just worked out that way so far … and it’s something we care about,” Tenney said.

That’s not to say the average age of the artists represented, which remains just under 30, dictates quality or pricing—break out the checkbook, several works in the gallery are worth thousands of dollars. Still, in true-to-form fashion, the founders did out with the traditional model of immediately attaching a price to specific piece, feeling this tarnished the experience.

“We took down our labels, leaving just the titles and bios … We realized when we went to other galleries and analyzed our experiences, we’d look at the pieces, look at the price, and then back at the piece with that price attached to it,” Tenney said.

A bench with offset, bar-style legs by Dario Quilici. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ARTERY COLLECTIVE

Instead, a price book is available should a patron contemplate a purchase after first appreciating the piece for the artistry involved.

According to Tenney, the gesture is not one of revolt but of creative uniqueness, feeding the idea The Artery Collective is a breathing, evolving piece of art in and of itself.  “This project just sort of became our new piece, and we approached this like we’ve approached every other medium we’ve approached: How can we be original?”

It’s not The Artery Collective’s only stamp of originality; housed in a unit in the Rowland Live/Work Complex, The Artery Collective also doubles as a home for Jenkins and Tenney, who live in the structure’s adjacent apartment component.

While rare in modern America, the premise of living in or connected to one’s place of work extends back millennia; some might scoff at the idea, particularly when “work-life balance” is a mainstay buzzphrase in the modern professional arena, but the old adage “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life” rings true for the young men.

“We appreciate it so much each day, living in a neighborhood like this, one that’s both residential and commercial,” Jenkins said.

The concept folds neatly into one of The Artery Collectives foremost pillars, that the space is dedicated to the community with a bent on togetherness.

“I really just want it to be known this is a community project … Bozeman, still has a small town feel, and living in a place like Denver or visiting a place like Seattle, big cities, you realize everything is linked,” Jenkins said. “I’m not saying I want more people in Bozeman, but I do want to unify the subgroups of Bozeman. My goal is to unify and bring these people in to interact.”

Jenkins and Tenney were able to launch their initiative with the help of family, friends and members of the standing Bozeman art community, a reality they are grateful for, and Jenkins, whose father passed in 2014, feels part of his motivation is inherited from the entrepreneurial and businesslike spirit the man possessed; he’s proud of his ability to conceive an idea, get it off the ground and then run with it, knowing his father would be too.

On the professional side of the equation, one connection in particular, that with Amy Kirkland, founder of Bozeman’s Altitude Gallery, has provided a wealth of knowledge that only experience can render, serving as a mentor of sorts and sounding board for their endeavors.

“We got connected right before our first gallery show, and she gave us a lot of help and advice,” Tenney said. “She’s been doing it for over 20 years, so it’s a cool connection to have and it’s a good feeling to have that acknowledgment from her and the already established art gallery community.”

Their inaugural gallery showing in May attracted the attention of a wide swathe of artists, aficionados and community members of all ages; a good omen for those to come, and walking through the Artery Collective’s spaces, as that batch of guests did just five months ago, it’s easy for even the untrained eye to realize the founders are onto something.

Just what that is has yet to be determined, but with ambition and creativity like that possessed by the dynamic duo of Jenkins and Tenney, it’s hard to imagine anything but groundbreaking and lasting artistic impact on the city they call home. 

The Artery Collective is open to the public for walk-ins every Sunday, Monday and Tuesday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., and the rentable studio space is available Sunday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit artery-collective.com for more information.

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