Former office worker finds fulfillment in new art gallery


Laid off from an unfulfilling office job in October, Kirsten Smith didn't want to waste time looking for another job she wouldn't like.

So the 26-year-old Loyola College graduate asked herself, "If I could do anything in the world, what would it be?"

And as she sits within the month-old Keystone Gallery, preparing for the grand opening celebration from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. tomorrow, Ms. Smith can now answer, "This is it."

Only a few months ago, the former art and media major decided to pursue a long-standing passion and open her own gallery. With a little help from her friends, she rented space in an aging brick building downtown, cleaned it up with some paint and a lot of elbow grease and opened the exhibit space specializing in work by students at nearby colleges and art schools.

Her strategy is to offer interesting, original art while keeping the prices relatively low, mostly between $400 and $700.

A few doors from Tio Pepe restaurant, the gallery's giant bow window peers out onto East Franklin Street, allowing passers-by a glimpse inside at Keystone's collection, which includes an eclectic batch of sculpture, oil paintings, photography and other work.

One of Ms. Smith's goals is to create a laid-back atmosphere where potential buyers will feel comfortable.

"My whole life, every time I went into any art gallery, I felt like I was being checked out," Ms. Smith says. " 'What is she wearing? Does she have any money?' "

Not at Keystone, she claims.

Ms. Smith hopes to sell just enough art to pay the rent on the building and stay in business.

Even so, opening a gallery in the midst of a recession seems a bold move.

"Or crazy," she counters. "We haven't quite decided."

The Keystone Gallery at 8 E. Franklin St. is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. For information, call 576-8271.

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