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The King Lens and Friends: Building Community in Newport

For Patrick Murphy, community is everything.

When the photographer first had the idea of opening up an art gallery in his hometown, he knew it would be heavily based around supporting and adding to the Newport community. He knew he wanted to highlight talented artists from both the local area and out of town in a space that felt both welcoming and unique. Choosing the location in which to do so was the easy part.

“When I grew up, the fifth ward was where all the kids grew up...where the families were”. The well known, nostalgic location was perfect. Despite a lack of foot traffic through the area, the gallery thrives in co-op with nearby businesses, including a produce market and coffee shop one door down.

The gallery has successfully created a small community within itself. Artists and audiences alike are able to use the space as a social and inspirational place. Murphy says, “That’s one of my biggest takeaways from having this gallery...meeting people and being inspired constantly. I’m lucky for that, and I tell people that want to be inspired, ‘Come here more. Talk to people, between the guy on the couch to the artist that’s here to someone who is passing through’. You never know who you are going to meet, and its rewarding just to open up and talk to someone”.

Not only does Murphy curate "The King Lens and Friends" to provide a place for artists to display their work, but he has also organized a music festival to do the same. “Live Local” is a festival that celebrates the arts, but also the Newport area itself. Murphy believes “you can only take so much if you don’t give back”. Contributing in any way possible to his community has always been the driving force behind both the gallery and festival. He sees these as “a gate that can open” for local talent by providing them with the space to gain exposure and experience. “The opportunities are endless.”

These celebrations of art place emphasis on the beauty within the Newport community. Together, through both music and visual art, the unique aspects of Newport’s people, culture, and history is being showcased. 

Murphy also redefines what it means to be an active local community member. He says “you can be a local without your birth certificate saying Newport, as long as you’re investing in this community and trying to make it better”. His advice to people wanting to give back to their local community is to sincerely “put your time in, and try to do something to better the community, and people will catch on to that and support you”.

With the growing popularity of social media and emergence of new forms of digital art, many are left wondering what the place of real world art galleries and shops may be. Despite the concerns, the gallery owner and photographer believes the internet is just another tool that artists should use to their advantage, and an important one at that. 

“I think that there’s a lot of opportunity on social media. I’ve met probably 40% of the artists through social media...if it hurts your business, you’re not evolving”.

Murphy strongly believes that digital platforms give way to new forms of marketing that print has never been able to provide. Simply from an accessibility stand point, reaching potential consumers through their phones has proven incredibly successful.

“This is the first year that more money was spent on Instagram advertisements than TV advertisements. You think about that shift in where the money is going, and that says something.” Being aware of the growing popularity of social media allows Murphy to target his audience directly. “People are looking at [Instagram] every day. People might not pick up a paper every day, but they have their phone in their hand every single day”.

And this type of marketing style has clearly paid off. He sees the inclusion of social media as a tool for growth, allowing him to draw the right audience to his space. “If it gets to the right person, they’re going to connect with it, come here, and hopefully enjoy this place”.

However, using the internet to your advantage does not mean shutting out in-person connections. “When it comes down to it, I think word of mouth is all time and you should use that everywhere you go”. Not only is in-person connection important in marketing, but in the act of displaying and purchasing art as well. “I still have art from my dad that he I tell [artists] to invest in their craft, and it will pay them back tenfold.”

Knowing how to use a combination of online and in person presence may prove to be difficult to business owners who are inclined towards one or the other, but Murphy is using both to push his gallery forwards. “I’ll always have my foot in the door. No one is going to change what I am doing, but I will evolve with what’s going on.”

With all the advice Murphy is willing to give in terms of marketing or business, we asked if he saw himself as a teacher for artists trying to manifest their own ideas or dreams. “I don’t say I’m a teacher, but I will give you any knowledge that I have because there were people who gave me their knowledge before. I didn’t go to school for photography or marketing. As an artist, if you don’t want to go the traditional route of going to college...find those people who are willing to pass that knowledge down, because it benefits everyone.”

“I’ve had apprentices. I’ve had interns. I’ll help anyone who wants that knowledge. I would love to teach workshops, but I don’t think I’m there yet. I’m still in the process of learning and I'm looking for teachers everyday”.

Despite still seeing his journey as an artist and gallery owner as an ongoing process, he still finds the value in helping those following the same path as him and helping out the local art community. “People look at it too much like a competition when the only competition should be with yourself. As long as I’m doing better than I was last year, then I’m okay.”

For more on Patrick Murphy and The King Lens and Friends, visit these links:

Written by Caroline Moll

Photographs by Leigh Ann Rodgers

Quotes by Patrick Murphy


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