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The locals that revived Columbia's art scene

Kate Gunn, Lili Vianello and Joel Sager are Columbia's art allies

Julia Sumpter, Kholood Eid, Joshua Boucher

November 14, 2013 | 12:00 a.m. CST

When it comes to revitalizing Columbia’s art scene, Kate Gunn, Lili Vianello and Joel Sager prove that three heads are better than one. Gunn stands as the business figure, Vianello acts as an arts appreciator, and Sager is an artist-turned-gallery-owner. Each brings his or her own talents and time commitments to the mix. With a pinch of pizazz and their own personalities, these three have made Columbia’s art scene the healthy community it is today. Although Sager stands as the only artist in the group, Gunn and Vianello serve on art-related boards. Without each of their roles, Columbia culture wouldn’t shine as brightly.

Gunn’s love for arts grew after working at an Orr Street coffee shop after college. Photo by Joshua Boucher

Kate Gunn

Outrageous, you say? No, it’s artrageous.

Kate Gunn’s Artrageous Fridays are labors of love. Gunn, executive director for the quarterly gallery crawl, added to this growing family of participating locations by raising awareness of the event. With traditional gallery spaces, jazz performances and even tattoo parlors, Gunn aims to expand Columbia’s idea of what art is.

She graduated from MU in 2008 with a degree in marketing and then went to Stephens College for a master’s degree in strategic leadership. She used these skills to become a strong advocate of local artists.

David Spear, owner and artist at Alleyway Arts, has participated in Artrageous Friday since it began. He credits Gunn’s coordination and thoughtful promotion for the growth of the event.

Jennifer Perlow, former co-owner of PS:Gallery, started the event in 2003, and Gunn took over in 2008. Initially, Gunn found it hard to communicate with artists because of her analytical business style, but she learned how to promote the arts by raising awareness of the events. The support from Columbia’s residents for the event helps participating artists and galleries establish themselves as staples of the community.

The event started out as a Gallery Crawl put on by the Downtown District Association, but it has evolved to incorporate multiple mediums. Participating locations include Orr Street Studios, Columbia Art League, Artlandish Gallery and more. Numbers have grown from about eight locations to 33 at the most recent event in October. She anticipates close to 40 participating businesses for next year’s events.

Along the route, gallery crawlers can view guerilla art installations, dance performances and even artistic expression through food. Artrageous Fridays wrapped up for 2013, but the 2014 season begins Jan. 17.

Vianello filled her office’s conference room with images of tigers and other animals. Photo by Kholood Eid

Lili Vianello

You better buy some art before it’s all gone.

To say there isn’t enough wall space would be an understatement. Lili Vianello, president and owner of Visionworks Marketing Group and president of the Missouri Symphony Society, covers the walls of her office with paintings, photographs and other art.

Vianello’s family history with the Columbia arts began when she moved here at just 2 years old. Her parents, Hugo and Lucy Vianello, quickly noticed the opportunity for more artistic expression in their new town. Hugo, a classical orchestra director and composer, and Lucy started the Missouri Symphony Society in 1970. Hugo has retired, but he continues to compose.

Lili views herself as an appreciator of the arts, and she certainly shows it through her involvement in organizations. She has served as a board member for Access Arts, Columbia Art League, Missouri Symphony Society and many other programs over the years.

Unless childhood dance lessons count, Vianello isn’t an artist herself. Marie Nau Hunter, former manager of Columbia’s Office of Cultural Affairs, says Vianello’s varied skills contribute to her role in the community.

“What is especially important about Lili’s association with the arts is that she is a business person, and she recognizes the value of the arts as a patron, as a volunteer and as a supporter,” Nau Hunter says. “All arts organizations need more of that.”

Lili says she has enjoyed putting together her collection from artists in the mid-Missouri area including her close friends Susan Taylor Glasgow, Robert Stack and other notable local artists. Her taste has evolved. At certain times, she focused on photography, watercolors and three-dimensional pieces and other mediums.

Joel Sager, sits among his mixed-media collages at PS:Gallery. Photo by Julia Sumpter

Joel Sager

Always an artist, but hey, why not own a gallery, too?

This summer, PS:Gallery was in limbo. Former owners Jennifer Perlow and Chris Stevens were planning a move and needed someone to take over the gallery. In stepped a reluctant Joel Sager.

Sager is first and foremost an artist. He works with vintage wallpaper, acrylic and oil paints and beeswax to create textured mixed-media collages. Perlow sold his work for almost a decade before her family’s move this summer.

Perlow and Stevens first opened the gallery in 2006 after leaving Poppy, another downtown gallery. Sager followed them by curating shows. When the owners announced in April that they were leaving Columbia, PS:Gallery was either going to shut down or come under new ownership.

At first, Sager was hesitant to take over the gallery because he had seen how much work it took to run. But after the staff made clear they would help to alleviate the workload, he decided to run the gallery while balancing time for his own creations.

PS:Gallery remains the only commercial gallery in Columbia, which means it relies on private funds instead of grants or membership fees, according to Sager. He, along with the gallery’s staff, Amy Meyer, Antoine Matondo and Jonny Pez, started a crowdsourcing fundraiser using With the help of Columbians and fans of the gallery, they raised $42,000 in June.

Sager is grateful that he can still spend the mornings working in his studio at Orr Street Studios. He spends the rest of the day at PS:Gallery. According to Perlow, it’s rare for an artist to be business-savvy like Sager is.

Tootie Burns, another Orr Street Studios artist and friend of Sager, serves on the board of the North Village Arts District. “There is a different energy there (at PS:Gallery), and I mean that in a good way,” she says.” “It’s exciting that PS:Gallery is continuing. I don’t think anyone could have taken on the challenge better than Joel and the team he has helping him.”

“We’ve got a vibrant arts community in Columbia, and it takes all types to make it work,” Vianello says.

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