Sarah Renzi Sanders and Angie Meche Kilcullen were artists, friends and neighbors in Kensington, Maryland. When a local thrift shop closed, they came together to make something of the space, and are now co-founders of the recently opened gallery and studio space Girls Who Paint.
In early 2022, Sanders walked into the shop next door to ask about the vacant space, and the thrift shop owner told her he wasn’t renewing his lease.
“I called Angie; I had to do some convincing,” Sanders says.
The shop was full of merchandise that covered the windows and made it hard to imagine as an open gallery space, but they decided to go for it.
“We made the decision on Valentine’s Day and signed the lease on March 15. Then we just got to work.”
Together, they set to work ripping up carpeting, painting the floors (it took about seven coats, Sanders recalls) and refurbishing furniture.
Sanders and Kilcullen shared a vision of “bringing a community of artists, art lovers and supporters together in a vibrant, welcoming and beautifully appointed space,” Kilcullen says, who has been active in the arts in Kensington for more than a decade.
They also wanted to focus on increasing access to art and creating a platform for women artists who are underrepresented in major galleries and in museums. A recent analysis of major U.S. art museums by researchers at Williams College found that just 13% of artists featured in collections are women, despite the fact that nearly 55% of working artists are female.
Sanders developed her practice outside of traditional pathways and taught art classes before selling her own work. She says Femme Fatale DC, an entrepreneurial hub that showcases women, nonbinary artists and makers, helped build her presence. As she started to submit work to shows and grow her network, she wanted to create a similar model of artists supporting artists, women supporting women in her neighborhood.
Girls Who Paint opened on April 29, 2022. The space’s first exhibition celebrated artists who are also mothers, an important group to Sanders and Kilcullen who are parents themselves.
“It’s hard to find that balance and to be taken seriously: ‘Oh, well, she’s a mom, this is just a hobby,’” Sanders says. “We had 15 or so artist mothers in that show. It was raining and we thought no one was going to show up, but the town came through. We were packed.”
Their first juried show was curated by artist Selena Jackson. Now, Girls Who Paint regularly holds open calls for juried exhibitions.
Their latest show, “Love Hurts,” curated by Helen Criales and Heather Lynn, is set to open on February 9. In addition to the gallery, artists and makers sell their work during business hours and hold pop-ups. The space also offers paint nights and art classes for kids.
As Girls Who Paint’s one-year anniversary approaches, Sanders and Kilcullen look forward to building on their success.
“We will grow by remaining accessible, encouraging and authentic in our mission to make art more accessible to all in a relaxed and un-intimidating environment,” Kilcullen says. “The main thing I’ve learned since launching this business is how very much our space was needed. Every day we are encouraged by those who walk through our doors because of their positive reactions to what we are creating.”
Girls Who Paint is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 10:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. and by appointment. “Love Hurts” opens on February 9.
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