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Mystery Art at the Kemp Center for the Arts

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Every October since 2005, artists and art lovers alike meet at the Kemp Center for the Arts to celebrate art at the Mystery Art Fest. It is a string of events that begins with artists donating up to two 8X10 pieces of art to the Kemp Center and culminating in an auction of the donated art. But where does the “Mystery” come in? All the art is unsigned, and the identity of the artists are a closely guarded secret. Only after the silent auction are the names of the artists revealed. But the fun doesn’t stop there! Then comes the live auction of the art that reached the maximum bids. “We had 260 entries with 186 artists and 43 youth entries,” said gallery manager Kristine Thueson. “We have a broad range of artists from amateur all the way up to professional artists. It means a lot of diversity in the content of the work.”

“Mystery Art is a platform for artists to experience being part of a gallery,” said CEO of the Kemp Center for the Arts, Carol Sales. “We have artists of all ages involved, at different levels in their art careers. What is fun about it is that because it is a mystery and because of the level of tenure, it is almost a level competition among themselves to encourage each artist to strive to do their best.”

Although in many ways it has become another fundraiser for the Kemp and the Arts Council (the Arts Council is the governing board of the Kemp Center), it was created to give artists the experience of having their art in a gallery. I think the success of it is because it is unbiased. Not putting the name of the artists on the front of the works lets the artists experience people seeing and talking about their art. This allows the artists to break down that barrier and say, “Oh that is my piece of art.” It is very rewarding to them.

“It is also an incredible opportunity to learn how art speaks to you. It always amazes me to watch people and see how they are attracted to different works. We have created some art enthusiast over the years,” Carol explained.
The art is presented equally in uniform black frames, or if it is a stretched canvas they have a finished edge or a black edge. This allows the Kemp Center to present all the art work on the same level regardless of the individual artist. Three-dimensional art is also welcome if it fits in an 8X10X10 area.

“We have a label that goes with them that has all the information—the title of the piece, the category and the media the artists used. Starting bids on the art pieces are $35, so that is the minimum price. And unlike a regular gallery exhibit, where we take the commission and they get the bulk, we get the full amount. That is a wonderful, generous thing that the artists are doing,” said Kristine. Carol said that approximately $20,000 was raised from the spirited bidding of last year’s event.

“Mystery Art Fest started in 2005 when we had Art Affair on the Square during the gala the night before. The first person to bid $100 got the piece. It moved from that to be open to any artists who wanted to participate and sign it on the back. We are a community art center and it is all about community, so everyone can enter in a nonbiased form,” said Carol.

This year there were three judges for the show that included Aaron Moses, David Band and Danny Bills. The Hub of NTX awarded ‘Honorable Mention’ to 15 artists and those are displayed along side this story.


-Cindy Thomas