Caranne Camarena talks about her gallery, Vulpes Bastille, and the changing Crossroads

Photography by Brandon Waldrop.

Caranne Camarena wanted to create a space for artists to work on their pieces and collaborate in an artistic community, much like she had at her alma mater, Kansas City Art Institute.

Overland Park native Camarena has been drawing since she was a small child, calling her decision to go to art school a “foregone conclusion.” Although she has worked with all types of mediums from paint to taxidermy, she now focuses mainly on large-scale mixed media drawings and collages revolving around animal imagery.

Soon after graduating, Camarena invested in an old building in the Crossroads that she transformed into spaces for herself and former classmates to work on their art. Gallery and studio Vulpes Bastille was born. 

The gallery space features pieces from artists, who rotate monthly, available for purchase every First Friday. A decade after its humble opening, we talked to Camarena about her studio and gallery and the rapidly changing Crossroads Arts District.

Can you tell us about the beginnings of Vulpes Bastille? I actually didn’t set out to have a gallery. I didn’t want one. I wanted the whole building to be studio spaces. But in the summer of 2012, a couple of my friends asked if they could put some artwork in the front since nothing was up there yet and there was a space that could be used as a gallery. I just kept letting people have shows here. The shows had excellent turnouts because the Crossroads had a ton of foot traffic and, at the time, that entire block was nothing but small artist-run galleries, so we fit right in. Over time, I was cajoled into opening a gallery.

How did the space get such a unique name? I only slightly regret naming it this—it sounded like a really good idea when I was in college. Vulpes is the Latin word for fox, and Bastille is like the French Bastille. This is somewhat stemming from my misunderstanding of what the Bastille is. It’s kind of funny in retrospect. The fortress aspect comes from the fact that because I bought the building, it basically meant that we couldn’t be moved. Essentially all the art spaces that were around me when I first opened are now all gone. But there is just no getting rid of us because we can’t have our rents raised until we leave.

What can people expect when they visit the gallery? The goal is for it to be a really diverse array of things as the year progresses, and there’s not any one medium I prefer over the other. I just look for good ideas and passion. I think it’s a good thing for me to not be able to really tell you exactly what to expect when you walk in the gallery. Sometimes there will be a very noisy experimental jam session set to a backdrop of mixed media paintings or ceramic sculptures. I only have a few very vague guidelines, like don’t light my building on fire and don’t leave unattended live animals in here. I shouldn’t have to say these things, but this has come up. 

What’re your thoughts on the changing art scene in KC? The art scene in KC has changed to a frightening degree in the last ten years. For as much as the city likes to brag about its Arts District, they didn’t do anything to help keep the artists there or stop out-of-state developers from buying all the property. It’s kind of hard to keep calling it an Arts District if it got too expensive for all the artists to keep being there. Artists will find places to continue to work and make art, but it’s the fact that it’s gotten so decentralized from our Arts District. Does it all need to be in one place? No, it doesn’t, but it was really nice when it was. We’re like the last art space left in the vibrant East Crossroads Arts District. That, to me, is incredibly sad but makes what we’re doing all the more important.

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