What is Art?

The Coutts Museum of Art’s current museum-wide exhibit is entitled “What is Art?”

The exhibit showcases local area artists and features sculpture and 2-D work from Dallas Dodge; prints from Jennifer Callaway; jewelry from Jillian Marsh; graffiti from Belle Rausch; textiles from the Wichita Weavers, Spinners, and Dyers Guild; and an installation piece from curator Sheila Yrjanainen.

Museum guests touring the What is Art? exhibit

“We have many different forms of art in here right now,” said Yrjanainen.  “We hear from people all the time that they don’t like this type of art or that type of art, so we wanted to have a museum-wide exhibit with many art forms.”

With Halloween around the corner, Yrjanainen shared an interesting fact about the museum.  

“We have ghosts,” said Yrjanainen. “John Bunyan Adams, [known as J.B. and Bun to his friends] killed himself in this building in 1921.”  

John Bunyan (J.B.) Adams as he appeared in an issue of the Walnut Valley Times in 1916.

“The Coutts was originally the Butler County State Bank and he was the first bank President,” she said.

According to Vol. P. Mooney in his History of Butler County, Kansas, [John Bunyan] J. B. Adams was the Head Bank Cashier and owned a controlling interest in the bank, which was founded on June 5, 1909.

“He shot himself in the heart 4 times…and missed,” said Yrjanainen.  “The janitor found him and he was taken to the hospital and died 7 hours later. The newspapers said it was a suicide but he left no letter and the newspaper didn’t say anything about an autopsy.”

Yrjanainen said she and her co-workers see and hear strange things coming from the office he used to occupy.  

“We joke about John Buyan Adams still being here,” she said. “It is one of the museum mysteries.”

Listen to the podcast with Sheila Yrjanainen.

The museum has held ghost tours in previous years but due to the pandemic it is not hosting tours this year.  However, the public is invited to visit the “What is Art?” exhibit and perhaps catch a glimpse of the museum ghosts for themselves. The exhibit runs from August 5 – October 28, 2021.  The museum is located in downtown El Dorado, at 110 N Main St. El Dorado, KS 67042.

Protesters Object to Art Exhibit

A new exhibit has opened at the Coutts Museum of Art, “Chromatic Hallucinations” however, not everyone wants to talk about the art but rather the artist himself. 

Chromatic Hallucinations is on display at Coutts Museum of Art in El Dorado.

Lana Malone and her friends are protesting the museum’s decision to show the artworks of Sean Christopher Ward.

Malone said, “My biggest issue is that they are supporting a sex offender.”

Her request was for transparency regarding the artist. Ward is a registered sex offender who was convicted 10 years ago, served his court imposed sentence and has under gone rehabilitation.  

Lana Malone, left, with friends stood outside Coutts to protest the art exhibit.

While Ward will not be present at the museum, where his art will be on display through September 30th, he did issue a statement addressing the protest, “I have no fear of talking about my past or how people will use it against me, like some individuals have been doing over this last month on social media.” 

Ward said, “It’s been 10 years now and I don’t even have a speeding ticket on my record. I have been able to host 500+ artists from around the world in my community and my gallery, on my own dime. I have been able to host 70+ musicians from around the Midwest for my community, on my own dime. I have provided a safe space for everyone, no matter their gender/classification/skin color, to do what they love and I’ve done everything I can to help make their careers moving forward better than before.”

Ward said his sole mission in life is to redeem himself from his past actions and help make his community a better place.

“I am not here to promote anything negative, nor to create spaces in which people cannot feel safe,” said Ward. 

“That’s why people trust me now. I have earned that trust from the years of constant hate and disgust towards my actions and I have not let it affect my progress forward to become an upstanding citizen and help my community to the best of my ability and in a safe manner.” 

Ward said, “I cannot change my past, as much as I wish I could, but my actions 10 years ago do not define me indefinitely, they define that old version of me.  I am a firm believer that people who want to change, can change, and that’s why I have never judged anyone and provided any artist with a space to express themselves in my galleries. The judiciary system and law enforcement are doing their rightful jobs of monitoring me for the rest of my life and I have yet to let them, or society, down again. It is not social media’s keyboard warriors job, nor is it the right way to go about things when they haven’t even met the person before.”

With respect to the protesters, Ward said, “These individuals have yet to reach out to me, even once, to talk about my history or anything of the sort. They just took it upon themselves to paint a picture of me to the public of the “worst case scenarios” they could think of,” Ward said. “Though, I am ashamed of my action from ten years ago, I am proud of the person I have become today.”

In a statement, Tim Howard, Executive Director of the Coutts Museum of Art said, “The Board and staff of the Coutts recognize what an honor it is to live in a country where creating, exhibiting, and experiencing art is a constitutional right under the 1st Amendment. Consistent with our fundamental commitment to freedom of speech we will not censor exhibitions in response to political or ideological pressure.

Tim Howard, Executive Director, standing in front of one of the pieces of art on display.

“Just as we believe that the works of art on display are worthy of an exhibit, we also understand that the group protesting today have a right to their freedom of speech and will in no way interfere with their right to peacefully protest. They are not protesting the art, they are protesting the artist’s past.

“The Coutts Museum of Art in no way supports crimes of any nature. This crime was processed through the judicial system ten years ago, and this artist has served his punishment for that crime accordingly. The safety of our guests and staff is always our foremost priority; this exhibit is no exception. 

“The Family Life Center – Safehouse is proud to accept all donations received from the public for the exhibit. This organization provides comprehensive services to the victims of the crimes of domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault/abuse.”