Sheet Cake Art Gallery, Where Everyone Gets a Slice
Endlessly creative and equitable art goddess Lauren Kennedy has opened an art gallery called Sheet Cake, an inclusive space where all are welcome and a diversity of artists are featured.
Tell our readers a little bit about the landscape of your life before opening up Sheet Cake Gallery
I received a BA in Art History from Rhodes College in 2008, and my love for art goes back even further than that, digging into art books at Books-A-Million with my dad as a kid. I’ve been very fortunate to work in several different positions in the arts since I graduated from college. These include the Nasher Sculpture Museum, Dallas Art Fair, Ballet Memphis and most recently serving as the Director of the UrbanArt Commission.
I had a very uncommercial gallery project in my apartment for about five years called Southfork that gave me so much during that time.
I am pulling from each of those experiences in opening Sheet Cake and will be forever grateful for opportunities that have been presented to me and for taking those as far as I can.
What inspired you to start Sheet Cake?
I have had people ask me for years if I ever wanted to open my own gallery, but the thought was always too daunting to really consider. Then I was really thinking about what came after my time at UAC, and I think both my experience building and the responses to the Memphis International Airport art collection made me wake up and think… Could I really do this?
I have had some incredible people championing me in this endeavor from the very beginning and pushing me to make it real for myself, the artists, and for Memphis. Sheet Cake to me is an invitation. It has been so important to me from the beginning that this space feels warm, welcoming and accessible. And the name and branding for the gallery had to be the first place to encounter that vibe. The art world can take itself so seriously a lot of the time, and that’s just not really my jam. A sheet cake is an inelegant but always comforting experience to me. The name actually hit me at a concert after weeks and weeks of back and forth in person and in a group text with some of my closest friends. It just felt right, come on in and have a slice of something sweet!
I also knew early on that I wanted to land in the Edge District. There are some incredible resources and support in this area thanks to the good folks at the Memphis Medical District Collaborative and Downtown Memphis. They helped me at every step of the way. There is so much good stuff over here that has come up over the last few years, and there’s more good things on the way.
Which artists and what types of art can visitors expect to see at Sheet Cake?
Sheet Cake is very proud to work with a group of 14 very different and exciting artists in the first year. The focus of the gallery is on artists based in and connected to the regional South, intentionally celebrating women, queer artists, and artists of color. There is a big range in terms of subject matter, approach, and aesthetics that feels really energizing to me.
Everybody is bringing something special to the table. I think this first show, Welcome In, really highlights that and hopefully makes people feel excited for what’s to come. About half of these artists are based in Memphis and the other half are coming from Atlanta, Knoxville, New York, Houston and Greenville. I very much want to support the work being made here and introduce artists in other cities to Memphis.
Who inspires you?
In no particular order: Dolly Parton, Daryl Hannah’s character from Steel Magnolias (before she finds Jesus), Louise Bourgeois’ “Sunday Salons,” Derek Fordjour, my grandma, my baby girl, and the artists in Welcome In.
What do you hope Sheet Cake does for Memphis?
I hope that Sheet Cake feeds the arts ecosystem in an important way by providing space for artists to show work, for Memphis to encounter new art and ideas, and for folks outside of Memphis to see that there are incredible things coming from this place. Baked into Sheet Cake is a loving demand for your attention and acknowledgement that the South and Memphis are more than what you think they are.
In a city where difficult pieces of news run across our phones, how can Sheet Cake be a reprieve for us?
Memphis is many, many things, and the local and national news coverage of crime here isn’t it. I think Sheet Cake is an opportunity to celebrate what makes this place and our region special and fills our cups up when other things drain them.
Why is art important?
Art is everything! It’s how we will be remembered! It feeds us, makes us ask questions, reflects our very different experiences moving through the world, keeps things interesting and weird, and inspires all the emotions.
Who would you like to thank as part of the creation of this gallery vision?
There are so many people to thank that I feel like it could be this entire article; but, I want to specifically thank my incredible family and friends who have held me together and stepped in to tend bar, get ice, babysit, and everything in between. Of course, I want to show gratitude for the artists in this first show—none of this would be real if they didn’t do what they do. I’m getting teary-eyed thinking about all of these loving folks.
The Sheet Cake Art Gallery‘s inaugural show Welcome In is on view through Saturday, January 6th. Follow @sheetcakegallery for more on future shows, like Velvet Sternum featuring Joel Parsons and Clare Torina.