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Accessible Art Gallery in Ray’s Living Room

Walker Evans Walker Evans
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Earlier this month, the Short North gained a new art gallery space as “Ray’s Living Room” hosted their first exhibition at 17 Brickel Street. The venue has been named after Ray Hanley, the former long-time President of the Greater Columbus Arts Council who passed away in 2006. His personal friends Kent and Tasi Rigsby are behind this new project and are utilizing the space as both an art gallery and an event venue. We recently spoke with Kent to find out more about the latest addition to the Short North art gallery lineup.

Walker Evans: Tell us why you wanted to have a full time gallery space.

Kent Rigsby: Well, part of it, we don’t really have a private dining space in our restaurant and we always sort of needed that option. We’ve had relationships with other art galleries before in the local area for doing that. When this space became available, it was a natural opportunity for us to take it over. We’ve always been fans of fine art and of local art and local artists. We have a pretty decent collection at home. Our walls are filled with art pretty much from artists from Columbus. I’ve been going to galleries since I was a teenager in New York. The gallery part of it was sort of a natural thing for us to embrace; but the gallery business is a whole other animal. We have to learn the gallery business. So we’ll be using the space two-fold with the gallery business and our own catering business in here as well.

WE: Is the focus on local artists in this space?

KR: For the most part, yes. If it grows and we get some talented people that are not local, that’s a good thing too. But I think for the most part we want to focus on local people. We want it to be a little bit edgy. Not just simple landscapes or something. We want it to be a little more fun and edgy which is our taste at home.

WE: Can you tell us a little bit about Ray Hanley, the former head of GCAC, and namesake of your new gallery?

KR: Ray was in the GCAC position for nearly 25 years. I met Ray in the gallery next to Rigsby’s before we opened Rigsby’s. It was in 1985. I showed up to the gallery during an opening because I had already signed the lease. She introduced me to Ray… “This is the young man, Kent Rigsby who is going to open a restaurant next door” and Ray says, “A restaurant? Well… good luck.” Full of skepticism. As much as he was a controversial patron and critic of the arts, he was kind of the same way with restaurants, he would patronize restaurants but he was real opinionated and really critical of restaurants that weren’t good.

WE: I have to imagine that some of his skepticism had to stem from the state of the Short North in 1985. It was a completely different neighborhood back then.

KR: Yeah, there really weren’t any restaurants. But really, once we opened, he experienced the restaurant and he became an incredible fan and patron of the restaurant. And then we developed a friendship. It was a really unique and vital friendship. In fact, when I was married in Greece, Ray was the only American that came to the wedding. All of the rest was my wife’s extended family and everything. Ray became a really great friend of my wife and myself. Our best mutual friend that we had. As we were looking at this gallery and trying to experiment with some names and everything, it became a natural fit that we would be able to pay homage to him and keep his memory alive. We celebrated his birthday the last couple of years at Rigsby’s with a lot of close friends and associates and business people that he knew and it kind of seemed to me that this year was sort of getting thinner. So I’m really kind of passionate in keeping his memory alive because he was really a vital person in Columbus. Certainly, he was a controversial figure in Columbus, he was never afraid to speak his mind and he was really upfront with the political powers that be and the people that run the city and everything… but that was such a great thing about Ray; his ability to be in that mix. But also he was really respected because he knew what he was talking about. I remember him talking about BalletMet, he loved the ballet and the art but he was very critical of the business side of it. For good reason at that time, and I think they got things together and started to think differently about it. But through everything, Ray was always by our side. We couldn’t have had a better patron or customer of our restaurant. I kind of fantasized about making footsteps between our restaurant and his house on Park Street so that on nights he maybe had too much fun in the restaurant he would find his way home with ease.

WE: With the name being “Ray’s Living Room”, it sounds like it lends itself to being a more accessible environment. Is that what you are going for?

KR: Well, it was sort of derived from the fact that Ray’s house on Park Street was a gallery in itself. His living room truly was a gallery. He had minimal furniture, a couch, a couple of armchairs and a coffee table. It was a long rectangular room with white walls and whitewashed wood floor. Really significant art on the walls. Prominent local artists that he just loved and supported. He kept his living room like that, it was literally a gallery. The second part of the name is a metaphor for the fact that he entertained all of the time there. He entertained political figures, artists, friends… it was ongoing events and we catered a lot of parties over there and just sort of became a natural fit. For christening the gallery in Ray’s Living Room, we pay homage to him but also our notion to be accessible, to be a casual, fun place, to come and have an event in or come and view some art as well.

WE: The ongoing changes in business mix in the Short North are always an interesting conversation on Columbus Underground. Whenever something like a new clothing store opens, a lot of people are quick to say the Short North has jumped the shark or that all of the galleries are leaving and the neighborhood has turned into a bar-hopping district. It seems that when a new art gallery opens, you don’t really hear the same sort of equal-but-opposite reaction about the arts presence being maintained in the area. Do you see this opening as a part of that balance being maintained… keeping the creativity of the neighborhood alive by opening this here and keeping it local?

KR: I think you have a good point, there certainly are a lot of bars and boutiques and everything… but for me, the boutique shops sort of go hand and hand with the gallery aesthetic because they usually have an artful look like the new {milk bar}. Definitely not your typical boutique or clothing store… it has an edge. The name isn’t typical, you wouldn’t think it was a clothing store… it has an artistic flow to it. There is some potential for the neighborhood to be young, a lot of college age people to be hitting up these bars and some of the corporate places around. But I think the Short North attitude and ethic is really strong and vital and there are pockets of galleries and these really cool boutiques and some artisan restaurants and bakeries and cafes that really make it neat mix. I think it is just the dynamic of an urban area that make it a neat area in a city that has a mix of both. I’ve heard some criticism that speaks to the gallery scene not being “what it used to be”, and I think that could be true… but if you work hard and really pay attention, there is a lot of work going on in the galleries. The Mahan Gallery, The Lindsay Gallery, Marcia Evans Gallery, Sharon Weiss Gallery. It just goes on and on, really vital unique galleries… and I don’t even pretend to be in their league. We’re a new kid on the block. Fortunately, we have a dual function that we can do catering and parties and things. At Rigsby’s we’ve always bought original art. We’ve made an investment in original art. We haven’t just bought consignments to decorate the place. In fact, this one really big painting in the back… the red painting “Marie’s Chin”, that was painted by Denny Griffith, President of CCAD, and a good friend of mine. It was probably one of the first paintings we used to decorate the restaurant. And when we remodeled the restaurant, we took it down, but it was always one of my favorites, so we used it here as a permanent fixture in the gallery. Ray was also a good friend of Denny’s, so it all comes full circle in a way.

WE: So it almost sounds like this could be considered one part gallery and one part modern museum.

KR: We’re talking to a couple of people that have some vital art collections and they are thinking about turning it over as they buy some new art. We are thinking about being a consignment gallery to a certain extent. It’s a component we haven’t really thought of but it has a lot of merit. It would be kind of fun to put some private art collections out too and help sell that as well. That’s a really exciting possibility.

WE: If anyone is interested in booking the space for events, how should they go about that?

KR: My wife Tasi manages the catering part. The office number is on the Rigsby’s website: 614-228-1150.

WE: Do you have any upcoming gallery exhibitions worth mentioning?

KR: We are working on our next show right now. Our grand opening was the June Gallery Hop. My preference is to host openings on a different day than Gallery Hop. I’d like to have it more accessible for people to come and park and see the art and get a really captive audience. Our signature for the galleries will be more of a party for the openings. We will be our own caterer. People will have to find us down this little alley, so that will be a little bit of a challenge, but I like the location for that reason too.

For more updates on events at Ray’s Living Room, follow Rigsby’s Kitchen on Facebook.

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