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Historic downtown building becomes new home to Art SUX Gallery
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Historic downtown building becomes new home to Art SUX Gallery

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During the late 19th century and into the early 20th century, Sioux Cityans could purchase haberdashery from the west end of T.S. Martin & Co. Department Store's 515 Fourth St. location.

For much of the Great Depression and leading into World War II, fashionable ladies could meet up with friends at Kresge's second floor luncheonette, which was housed in the same building.

Up until a few years ago, well-dressed gents could fill their closets with plenty of Ralph Lauren dress shirts and Tommy Bahama weekend apparel at the recently closed Karlton's Men Clothiers at the very same place.

DOWNTOWN LANDMARK GETS A NEW PURPOSE

Amy Thompson knew the historical importance that the three-story Martin Block building has in downtown Sioux City. 

That is why she and her engineer husband Matt Thompson wanted the space for Art SUX, a gallery for area artists to create, exhibit and sell their pieces.

"We started Art SUX with a studio and gallery at the Ho-Chunk Centre in 2019," Thompson explained. "But we quickly outgrew that space."

Ever since, she'd be scoping out downtown sites as soon as they hit the market. 

"The former Karlton's was always at the top of our wish list," Thompson said. "As soon as we took possession of the building (in December 2020), we knew Art SUX had a terrific new home."

AN ARTISTIC VISION

Previously an English teacher and writer, Thompson began creating abstract art more than 11 years ago. 

For a long time, she and other area artists had studios inside downtown's Benson Building.

After the 705 Douglas St. building had a change of ownership, Thompson and her fellow artists were forced to find new accommodations.

Initially, she moved her studio back to her home garage. Then, she rented  a space on Correctionville Road. Finally, she and a handful of artists secured space at the Ho-Chunk Centre, 600 Fourth St., which was already home to Gallery 103, which housed the work of nearly 20 Siouxland artists.

"The Benson Building was great but all of the artists were isolated from the public," Thompson noted. "The Ho-Chunk Centre gave us accessibility but we were limited to what we could do."

Indeed, she had ambitious plans for Art SUX, that included ample studio space, a gallery gift shop and, even, an area dedicated to budding young artists.

"I envisioned Art SUX as a nonprofit where we could teach art education to kids for little or no cost," Thompson said. "We'd be able to house artists of all types while bringing up the next generation of artists."

First, she needed to convince her friends in the art community.

A HAVEN FOR ARTISTS OF ALL STRIPES

Sioux City has always had a small but dedicated population of artists who knew and liked one another.

That was important to Kristin Vo, an abstract artist who worked mostly in acrylic paint, resin and alcohol ink.

"I loved the fact that every artist I've met has been so kind and supportive," she said. "We don't represent a big community but we try to look out for one another."

A QUALITY OF LIFE ISSUE

Vo was intrigued by Thompson's plans for Art SUX. So was Betty Skewis-Arnett, an abstract artist who was also a Professor Emeritus in theater at Morningside University.

"Amy was talking about Art SUX as being a part of an expanding art neighborhood," Skewis-Arnett said. "Larger cities have entire sections of their downtown dedicated to art and artists. I see no reason why Sioux City can't something very similar."

ART WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE

Thompson nodded her head in agreement.

"Art can totally be a destination point for a city," she said. "Just within the past few years, we've seen art galleries open up at the Ho-Chunk Centre, which is so close to both the Sioux City Public Museum and the Sioux City Art Center."

"With Art SUX just a block away from Gallery 103, people can see plenty of visual art," Thompson continued. "With Vangarde Arts (416 Pierce St.) just around the corner, people can also see the performing arts."

UNIQUE ARRAY OF ARTISANS

Connoisseurs of barista art will be pleased with the news that Nisa Salomon has moved her popular Hardline Coffee Co. to Art SUX as well.

But the real draw, of course, will be the eclectic array of artists who will now call Art SUX their home base.

"We have 22 different artists in 15 different studios," Thompson said. "We have painters, muralists, sculptors, people who work in metals, wood, photography, you name it."

ESTABLISHED ARTISTS AND UP-AND-COMERS WELCOMED 

Some of the artists are young up-and-comers, like photographer Britton Hacke or muralist Jessica Hammond (AKA "Brutal Doodles"). 

Other artists have more prolific portfolios. Shannon Sargent fits into that category.

A former mountaineering instructor with the U.S. Marine Corps, he is a mixed media artist who also teaches art at Morningside University.

"I first met Amy when we shared space at the Benson Building," Sargent said.

"Then, he abandoned me after a year," Thompson said, jokingly.

"Well, actually I moved out in order to give space to other artists who needed the space more than I did," Sargent, who also exhibits his work at Morningside as well as the Sioux City Art Center, explained. "Who knows? I may end of giving up my space here as well."

This actually might be a possibility. You see, Art SUX has already filled up its available space.

"We do have a waiting list," Thompson said. "Things and circumstances change all the time. We encourage all artists to contact us if they'd need studio space."

After all, there is no such things as too much art, right?

Well, Thompson doesn't think so. That's why she enlisted Sargent's help in hanging pieces inside Art SUX's expansive gallery.

"Shannon is the exhibitions/collections coordinator with the Sioux City Art Center," she explained. "Shannon's the expert when it comes to visual presentation."

Which isn't to say that Thompson isn't a visionary in her own right.

After all, not everyone could see how a 133-year-old building could have a second life as a mecca of art.

"I couldn't have done any of this without Matt's help or the help of our kids," Thompson said. "Our teenage sons are finally understanding the scale of this project.

"After seeing Art SUX nearing completion, our son was like, 'Wow, 50 years from now, all this will be mine!'" she said with a laugh. "Well, if mom and dad make to our 90s, then yes, this will all be his to keep."

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