‘Nothing can compare to this time culturally’: Paul Dorrell on 30 years of Leopold Gallery

Paul Dorrell, owner of Brookside’s Leopold Gallery, isn’t done raising hell yet. 

His gallery is celebrating its thirty-year anniversary on the Kansas City art scene this Friday, October 8 from 6 pm-9 pm.

Dorrell remembers that in the late ’80s, Kansas City considered itself a cultural backwater. Now, the art scene is highly regarded on both coasts.

“Nothing can compare to this time culturally,” Dorrell says. “Kansas City’s greatest strength is its visual arts.”

After he graduated from KU, Dorrell didn’t settle down quickly: “I wandered the world for ten years—worked on a fishing boat in Alaska, on a horse ranch in California.”

Dorrell eventually became the assistant director in a museum of French Impressionism in Connecticut, which had a profound influence on him. When he returned to Kansas City, he wanted to represent Kansas and Missouri artists on a national level. 

After opening a gallery space at the Hotel Savoy, he realized how few galleries turned a profit and how often they failed. Dorrell began to approach corporations, encouraging them to embark on a cultural crusade to support regional artists.

Fortunately, Henry Bloch, the University of Kansas Medical Center, the Kauffman Center, St. Luke’s and the Hunt family also wanted to keep local artists in Kansas City.

“When we did H&R Block Building, that became a cultural foundation for visual arts in the Crossroads. That huge collection of local artists’ works inspired other galleries to open there and inspired artists to open studios. It began the Kansas City Renaissance.”

To support the emergence of Kansas City’s young artists, the Leopold Gallery Educational Foundation supports Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Dorrell has also invested in Sumner Academy and Paseo Academy since 2006. 

“I found that both academies’ art departments were grossly underfunded—a lack of basic art supplies, functioning laptops, proper cameras, metal for sculptures, oil paint canvases—it was a disgrace. I realized I had to start raising money immediately.”

We also asked Dorrell for some of his KC favorites

The West Bottoms

“It’s still raw and unrefined. I love all the old railroad lines and bridges. They’re almost sculptural.”

The River Market

“Saturday mornings having coffee, getting produce from the stalls and flowers for my wife, and then riding bikes along the Missouri River.”

Union Station

“You can feel a different era there. It’s almost a dream state. Go out the back door and take the footbridge across the tracks to the Crossroads.

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