This year's Tom Thumb Art Festival was held at The Djinn Lounge April 11 and 12, but its history spans nearly two decades and has been held at locations throughout Kirksville.
Tom Thumb is an alternative art show put together by Truman State University students each year. The gallery is all about accepting any pieces of art submitted and encourages unusual pieces, which roots back to the reason why Tom Thumb was created.
Tom Thumb was started during 1998 by Truman students Jimmy Kuehnle and Kjell Hahn, Lauren Kellett, the co-organizer for this year’s Tom Thumb, said.
“The two students were fed up with the art department here and the galleries that they hosted because the galleries here are juried exhibits, which means they get judged by their art,” Kellett said. “The two students thought, ‘we don’t want to be judged by art, we just want to display anything we can and not be limited.’”
Kuehnle said the festival received its namesake when he and Hahn decided to start it while watching the 1993 film “The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb” on television.
“It was fun to kind of throw your fist up to the authority and do things the way you wanted to,” Kuehnle said.
The first Tom Thumb was held in Hahn’s room at Fair Apartments, Kuehnle said. Since then, Tom Thumb has been known as a “floating exhibition” because the gallery moves to a different location every year. Colleen Ryan, co-organizer for this year’s Tom Thumb, said the Aquadome is a favorite place to hold the festival because the people involved organizing the festival also are involved in the Aquadome.
Faith Martin, 2005 Tom Thumb co-organizer, said the festival is strictly not-for-profit and just wants to create a venue for the community to share their art. She said Tom Thumb has never received funding from the University or local businesses. They often hold fundraisers, sell t-shirts and perform concerts to pay for the venue, Martin said.
The beginning years of Tom Thumb involved many controversial and experimental pieces in the exhibition, including a 150 lb. hog roast, demolishing television sets, a pantsless speaker, and a controversial wedding which protested in support of gay marriage. One of the first exhibitions featured a 30-minute video of Kuehnle spraying volunteers with a hose in freezing temperatures.
But Ryan said these types of exhibitions are falling by the wayside.
“Tom Thumb has changed a lot, I’d say it’s a little bit less experimental than it used to be,” Ryan said. “I definitely say the artwork has changed over the years.”
Mitch Etter said he performed at this year’s Tom Thumb with his band “New Ocean.” He said the band's drummer broke the snare drum, but nobody noticed since the crowd was enjoying the music so much.
“Tom thumb is very inviting, you know,” Etter said. “You don’t have to be even that good, just as long as you’re creating. You know your work is invited.”
Over the years, Tom Thumb has developed a culture of its own. “The people that have gone to the Aquadome, the people that submit things to Tom Thumb perform at Tom Thumb, kind of make up a Truman subculture,” Ryan said. “I definitely say that people who go to Tom Thumb, it’s not a forgettable thing, you keep it in the back of your mind.”