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Bloomington/Normal a Hidden Camelot (Part 4)

Photo by Menendez 2016

Photo by Menendez 2016

Brian K. Simpson bought a little bookstore in Normal back in 1990 before the Internet and Amazon. Back then people still read and would enter bookstores and browse and talk to each other. The bookstore was named Babbitt's Books after Sinclair Lewis' book "Babbitt".  Poetry readings were held there and many professors from ISU would stop by to buy books and talk to Brian. One of these professors was David Foster Wallace. 

Brian standing outside of his gallery in downtown Bloomington. Photo by Menendez 2016.

Brian standing outside of his gallery in downtown Bloomington. Photo by Menendez 2016.

Twenty five years after owning the bookstore in Normal, Brian sold it and opened up a gallery in downtown Bloomington.  I asked him what made him sell the bookstore and he said he was tired of constantly playing dodgeball with the public's relationship with books in general. He had to be changing his business plan every three years to keep up with the emerging internet sales as the demand for recreational reading was decreasing.  He sold it to a younger person "who has the energy to pursue such an ephemeral animal." 

Brian's gallery in downtown Bloomington is not your traditional gallery you find in major cities. As a matter of fact, none of the galleries in town are. Many of the galleries in Bloomington/Normal serve as a studio for the artists who run them and sometimes they rent out spaces within the gallery to other artists.

My daughter Jay Menendez rents out the basement at Brian's gallery and sells her artwork from a corner in the storefront space. 

Drawing by Brian K. Simpson.

Drawing by Brian K. Simpson.

On Tuesdays the gallery offers live sessions with a weekly model. The fee is only $10 to attend. You may receive updates from Brian's Facebook.

Brian also heads a monthly meeting with other galleries and artists in town to plan out First Fridays's. Recently they had a Steam Punk theme. Several artists participated in this including local photographer Ken Chiu.

#steampunk #steampunkisreal

A post shared by Ken Chiu (@recstudios88) on

Brian also organizes many other events in town including one where I recently spoke to a group of artists about how to use social media. 

Across from Brian's studio is Main Gallery 404, Inc. which has artwork by many artists in town including Brian's, Seth Gordon, Jeffrey Bess, Ivonne Bess, Rachel Cofer, Ken Kashian, and many others. Main Gallery 404, Inc turned hands to a new owner Susan Rye Mendenhall who has made changes to the original way the artworks were sold and I have seen increased sales and have experienced excitement in the air due to her business plan. 

There are many King Arthurs in town. In our community, I bow to innovative gallery directors whom are trying the best they can to bring Bloomington/Normal out of the ages of Camelot and into modern times. Maybe we are not quite there yet in the 21st Century but we are steaming along.