Photo by Rachel Lukas.
Don Krumpos navigates making a living while making art
On a recent weekday morning, Don Krumpos was rearranging things at Yonder, the Algoma gallery that describes itself as a creative space run by artists.
Krumpos was coming off hosting his First Friday event, which featured 16 guest artists participating in an auction that raised $1,025 for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and $138 for the Transgender Law Center. The evening also included music by Morgan Piontek and drew more than 100 comments on Yonder’s Facebook page.
The gallery is a display space, work space and event space on Steele Street, which is Algoma’s cultural center. Next door is Yardstick, a well-stocked independent bookstore. Across the street is Ruse, a fairly new bar in a 1905 building. And down the block are Clay on Steele – featuring ceramic arts – and LadyBug Glass, which shows glass plus abstract photography and astrophotography.
Krumpos is primarily a printer whose favorite work is etchings on copper plates.
“I really enjoy the process, the iterative process,” he said. “You are always changing. You print one, and you make changes on it, and then you print it again and see how it looks. I also like wood-block printmaking and screen printing, which I finally have set up, so now we’re doing our own T-shirts and things like that.”
Krumpos and his spouse, Erin LaBonte, who’s also an artist, collaborate on public murals such as the one on Bayside Bargains in Sturgeon Bay and another that will hang from Sturgeon Bay’s City Hall. Many Algoma building facades also feature displays of their work, and they have established a reputation as mural creators – work that now pays reasonably well.
“I like to create an art space that people can walk into,” Krumpos said of Yonder. The gallery – with its prints, puppets and assemblages, as well as a three-quarter-scale covered wagon – creates some of that.
“It has a narrative to it. We’re building an idea. Just come in and look. We’re always working on it, creating a place [where] you can come in and see that it’s a little different than anywhere else. It’s not going to be a Gap.”
Krumpos lived in Minneapolis from 2009 until 2013, working as a graphic designer and web designer for companies such as Under Armour, Best Buy, 3M, Medtronic, United Health Care and several other medical tech and insurance firms – work he continues to do from Algoma. He moved back to Wisconsin to teach at UW-Green Bay for a year to fill in for a professor on sabbatical, and then he continued to work as an adjunct for several years.
LaBonte taught art full time at Silver Lake College in Manitowoc for eight years until the school closed in 2020 because of the pandemic. She then taught as an adjunct at UW-Green Bay, and this year, she started teaching art at Kewaunee High School.
The two are working out how to create art, contribute to the community, raise their two-year-old son and build financial security. It’s a mix that requires flexibility and improvisation.
Full-time university teaching posts are notoriously scarce, and adjunct positions are notoriously poorly paid. Although Krumpos has enjoyed working for nonprofits and teaching as an adjunct, he recognizes that that sort of work will never pay enough.
“You feel good about it, but you’re never getting over that bump,” he said, speaking frankly about money and balancing the need to earn with the desire to create art. “It’s just, that’s the way it goes. Like I would love the transition to this,” he said, referring to his printmaking, assemblages and puppets. “It’s still rewarding. A hobby.”
Then he paused and reconsidered.
“I’m reluctant to call it a hobby because I feel like being an artist is a frame of mind. You’ve just got to go to work sometimes, and support the things you do want. Then it gives you the freedom to just do what you want and not ask if someone would buy it. You can just do it because you have been bankrolling yourself.”
Krumpos has concluded that with commercial jobs, the rate of pay is inverse to the degree of interest in the work, but he questions how many people can make a living from art.
“This idea of making art and selling it – making a good living off of it – it’s very difficult. I gave up the dream of thinking [that] somebody can be just an artist. It’s very, very difficult. … I think about that stuff all the time, but now I’m taking the pressure off myself a little bit – off any kind of expectation because I really just enjoy my life. I don’t need to show in other galleries because we have our own.”