Southside Art Gallery remains a fixture in Oxford

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An exterior photo of the gallery. Photo by Ashley Sekul.

Ashley Sekul
Oxford Stories

The Oxford Square is home to many shops and restaurants, including Southside Art Gallery featuring weekly art shows. The small business on the south side of the Oxford Square features hundreds of creations.

Artists who sell artwork here are typically from Northern Mississippi. All artwork displayed is for sale, ranging in prices from $65 to $1,500.

Wil Cook, an Oxford native who earned an art history degree from the University of Mississippi, later became director of Southside Art Gallery, where he has worked 14 years.

His job description is not straightforward. Cook describes it as “doing a little bit of everything.” That includes selecting artists whose work is exhibited, planning exhibitions, preparing promotional information/materials for the exhibition, and hanging the exhibitions.

“Of course, the objective is to sell the artists’ work, so that’s always my top priority,” Cook said. “We’re a small business, so I do all of the menial tasks too ― clean windows and bathrooms, and take out the trash.”

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Wil Cook, director of Southside Art Gallery. Photo by Ashley Sekul.

Cook’s main job is to screen art sold in the gallery. With the goal of promoting sales, Cook selects art for exhibits and shows. Most art selected is based on how the customer will react. When art trends are more modern, Cook chooses modern art. When trending art is bright, he chooses brighter pieces.

Cook said he enjoys working with artists. “We’re very lucky to have a roster of artists who aren’t only talented, but great people as well,” he said. “I’ve bonded with several artists who exhibit here over the past 14 years. It makes it so much easier to sell art when you’re enthusiastic about the work you’re exhibiting and the people who make it.”

Cook has two workers who help things run smoothly. Kaz Zumbro is an artist, and Martha Kelley is a copywriter. Together, they are the main employees at Southside Art Gallery.

Zumbro is enthusiastic about her job. “I have been at the gallery for about a year now,” she said. “I began working here after receiving my BFA at the University of Mississippi.”

She plays a key role in creating pieces for the gallery’s open walls. She uses her artistic talent as a creator and advisor for incoming pieces.

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A picture of the upstairs exhibit at the gallery. Photo by Ashley Sekul.

Tourists frequently stop in the gallery, view exhibits, and purchase pieces year round. The number of viewers and buyers “is heightened in the fall,” Cook said. Many visitors come for football games and campus tours. Some spring and summer months have been promising.

One event that helps increase visitors is the Oxford Arts Crawl, organized by the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council. “We regularly participate in it,” Cook said.

“It takes place on the fourth Tuesday of most months from 6-8 p.m.,” said Zumbro. The crawl, along with private parties and events, keep the gallery lively.

In summer, Southside Art Gallery partners with a University of Mississippi class that gives students a unique opportunity to venture around Oxford. They create art based on Oxford scenery and life. The art created is displayed in the gallery.

“The gallery is my favorite in the summertime,” Zumbro said. “Having come from the university, I have an appreciation for the work we do with it.”

Cook said it’s cool to see how the students interpret different places around Oxford.

“The show usually stays up for around a week and does pretty well,” he said.

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