Known for helping artists, Art One owner Kraig Foote now needs someone to help him

Nine years ago, a guy named Brian Boner moved to Phoenix as a fresh college grad with an art degree from Minnesota State University. Boner stopped by gallery after gallery in Phoenix and Scottsdale, trying to make a connection. Inexperienced and shy, Boner didn't have a résumé or portfolio — just a stack of paintings.

Then Brian Boner met Kraig Foote, who owns Art One on Scottsdale's prestigious Marshall Way, home of world-renowned galleries like Lisa Sette and Bentley.

"Kraig was really the only one that was personally engaging, and was legitimately curious about my story and who I was," Boner says. After a few months of building a rapport with Foote, Boner finally got the courage to ask for help. At the time, Boner's paintings were works featuring heavily textured and abstracted silhouettes. They were a far cry from his art today, paintings that depict beautifully rendered children playing in ethereal landscapes. Still, Foote saw something in those early pieces and picked a few to hang. Boner's made a living as an artist — something he'd thought impossible — ever since.

Bring on the Pain — Good News Is On the Way by Westwood High School senior John Babbit
courtesy of Art One
Bring on the Pain — Good News Is On the Way by Westwood High School senior John Babbit

It wasn't the first time Foote had taken a chance on an unknown. Far from it. For the past 14 years, he's made a name for himself and his artists with a gallery that represents only novices — mainly high school and college students.

Foote, now 45, woke up one morning many years ago and discovered his idea. Scrawled on a chalkboard next to his bed were the words, "Open an art gallery for students." It was a thought that came during a sleepy haze on a midnight trip to the bathroom — he doesn't remember writing it. At the time, he was selling imported fabrics at a design center, and dating an art professor whose students were so poor, they had to dumpster-dive for art supplies. With financial backing from a friend, Foote opened his doors on Marshall Way.

The business was a success. Sales kept the gallery open and his artists were pulling some cash. Foote was then further inspired to set up a nonprofit organization, The Newlon-Foote Foundation for Student Artists, that takes donations for school art programs, collegiate scholarships, and artists in financial hardship.

But now, Foote is finding it hard to make his own ends meet. And there's a chance that Art One — really, the first spot in town to celebrate and support budding artists — might go under.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, it was business as usual on Marshall Way. Foote, a slight guy with wispy long hair and a toothy grin, holds court — greeting everyone who comes through the door. Art One has two large rooms, full of sculpture and paintings hung from ceiling to floor. The works are colorful and playful; a painting by high school student John Babbit shows a yellow thought cloud emerging from a hole, and leaking scarlet raindrops onto an outstretched hand. On the floor is a ceramic sculpture of a full-sized human body, curled into the fetal position on top of a huge pillow. There's an installation of an unruly mound of cubes in the front window — all decorated in stripes and geometric designs by a Coronado High School class. Today's traffic includes buyers, young artists dropping off work, parents, and former volunteers. Those who know Foote hang out and catch up. His natural banter is infectious — it's no wonder he's stayed open for over a decade.

Whatever the future holds, Foote's legacy is undeniable. Consider Brian Boner. Art One launched the painter's career. He's been a member of eye lounge, a collective gallery in Phoenix, and has shown at local museums like the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and the AZ Museum for Youth. He's currently represented by Wilde Meyer gallery in Scottsdale and Tucson.

Foote shies away from the spotlight, preferring to watch his artists emerge from the shadows. In fact, he didn't want his photo taken for this story and confessed he's made employees pose for him in portraits for other publications.

Greg Esser, president of a group that advocates for businesses on Roosevelt Row, including eye lounge, which he co-founded, sees Art One and Foote as an integral part of the Valley's art scene. "I don't want to understate how his leadership would be sorely missed," Esser says. "It would be a tremendous loss. He's been a shepherd; advocating for a roster of artists that have become the lifeblood of our arts community."

Foote doesn't just hang work. He seeks out inexperienced artists (mostly from local high schools and colleges) to mentor. He teaches them how to put together a portfolio, write artist statements and successfully market their work. He frequently fills paid positions with his artists and some spend their free time volunteering in the gallery.

Not just any kid with a paintbrush can get in, although no one leaves without some advice. But an artist's work has got to be saleable to get him or her representation. "We choose all based on whether we have clientele for it or not," Foote says. "There are artists that we turn down — we just don't have clients for their work."

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