Kelly Dietrick

Troppus Projects

Kelly sees her kids off to school and makes her way to her shop on Main Street. She sits at the table in the back before any customers arrive and loses herself in drawing grids, cutting paper, and more recently, turning prints into new originals. Even though the demands of her small business take up much of her time, Kelly makes sure to prioritize her own work. “I’ve been trying to make something every day before I open because that’s one of the missions of starting this space. I have a stack of these reproductions of my original pieces which are all hand-cut, hand-glued collages. They’re opportunities to brainstorm. Yesterday I had a print that I then sewed onto. It’s sort of like recomposing it and thinking about some new ideas in a quicker way.”

“I’ve been trying to make something every day before I open...”

Kelly Dietrick received an undergraduate and graduate degree in painting from Kent State University and Savannah College of Art and Design, respectively and taught for Kent State’s School of Art from 2005 to 2016 before opening Troppus Projects in 2017.

Troppus is support spelled backwards and means ‘to flock, to assemble.’ Kelly chose the name for the space after wanting to use her skills to help support other artists. “I felt this sense of what I did and what I wanted to do being really important, but not having an outlet for it at the time. So I was thinking in that vein and thinking about other artists who might be feeling the same way." 
The space next to Woodsy’s was the first space Kelly looked at for Troppus Projects and ended up being the one she chose. The front space is large enough for a gallery/shop and the back room, while small, provides ample space to work on her own art. Kelly tends to work in a small format. Even her larger pieces are many smaller pieces hung together
The space is bright with white walls and colorful art from a variety of artists who are either Kent locals, or were local to Kent at one time. As we talk, many people come to visit the space and buy art. Kelly is warm and inviting, always offering help in any way she can. She is still trying to figure out what people may want from Troppus Projects and from her when they visit the space. “It’s kind of a weird space that I think people in Kent are still kind of getting used to. I guess it’s sort of ambiguous, people often ask what exactly it is. Some people come in and they whisper, while other people are really boisterous and feel like it’s a comfortable space. I want people to feel like they can just go on as usual, because it’s not a library. Nobody’s studying, you know?”

We interviewed Kelly about Troppus Projects, her personal work, and what she thinks public art can bring to a community.
Public Utility: Where do you find inspiration in work? How long have you been creating work like this?

Kelly: I think I have been making work kind of like this always. I guess as a person I maybe suffer a little bit from worrying about cause and effect. I find there’s peace in having this control in my work where I’m creating the rules and initiating the randomness, but still don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. I want to make work that someone’s not done looking at. I don’t want to make work that feels like a joke or a puzzle that you get and then you’re done. I want to make work that people want to live with. I know I enjoy living with art that you see differently, that unravels or reveals itself over time. 

As I think about my kids and how I’m interested in them thinking or learning about art, I’m not terribly interested in whether they know how to draw a figure or a person. I want them to know how to think creatively and critically and make connections. That’s what makes someone artistic, whether you’re an artist or not. I think about this space and dealing with the public—I want to show challenging work, but I’m not terribly interested as an artist or curator in influencing people in a really specific way. Rather, I want to cause thoughtfulness and reflection.

PU: What is generally on your desk or workspace?

K: Watercolor paper, Elmer’s extra strength glue, an X-acto knife, a number two pencil, thread, and a needle. Oh, and origami paper! I use origami paper to collage with. I really like the contrast of it with the watercolor. You get this sense of something real graphic and solid that almost doesn’t feel handmade in contrast with the watercolor. And a metal ruler!

PU: Do you listen to anything while you work?

K: I actually like to listen to podcasts or just quiet. I have a house with two dogs and two kids and a husband. There’s always more than one thing audibly going on in my life and so sometimes I come here and I like to just have quiet.I also listen to music sometimes too. It depends on what I’m doing. If I’m making art, I like quiet a lot. If I’m installing an exhibition I’ll put music on because I just need some energy.

PU: What podcasts are you enjoying?

K: Well, I listened to S Town this spring while I was renovating the space. I also listen to a lot of art related podcasts like some of the ones that Hyperallergic posts and Modern Art Notes.


“I want to make work that someone’s not done looking at.”


“I want to show challenging work, but I’m not terribly interested as an artist or curator in influencing people in a really specific way. Rather, I want to cause thoughtfulness and reflection.”

PU: What is your go-to food and drink while you’re working?

K: Coffee.

PU: How do you like your coffee?

K:  I used to drink black coffee and now I like it with cream and sugar. I tend to make tea here. And I have the Aldi version of sparkling water in grapefruit. My husband on Friday’s brings me Troy Grill. I get the falafel with beets and everything. That’s so good. But I have also gotten used to kind of just having crackers and cheese because that’s what I have leftover from openings.

PU: What’s your favorite thing to do in Kent?

K: That’s a hard question. I mean, it should be easy. I like to do things unplanned. Like unexpectedly say, “Hey do you want to go to Erie Street kitchen and get dinner?” and then you run into people. I think that’s the beauty of Kent: you go for a walk on a Saturday and you pretty much always run into people. I’m not a planner. I don’t like to plan to do something two months from now on a Friday. I want to decide what we’re doing this Saturday on Saturday, at like seven. And I love that we can do things with our family. Almost everywhere is family friendly.  Going to Taco Tonto’s with the kids and sitting outside; we get Popped, we get ice cream, we go to Last Exit.


“I think everyone should live with art. I feel like part of my mission is to make it possible for art to be a regular part of regular lives.”

PU: In what ways do you think art is useful or necessary to a community?

K: I think it goes back to the importance of thinking about things right? Not just going through motions. It’s a practice where you’re giving yourself an opportunity to be thoughtful about something even when it might not seem very tangible. Again, going back to my kids and how I think about the importance of art for them. I think it’s important in terms of art education to know how to draw something in perspective or to draw the figure and to know anatomy, to know color theory. I love all that stuff, but I think the critical component of all of that is knowing how to think broadly and critically and with compassion. It’s one thing to make concrete connections, but it’s a whole different thing to make connections when things are more abstract and not obvious. I think those are the critical components in what would do society good: to be sensitive to those kinds of things and to be willing to shift perspectives and see things in a different way. So, when it comes to being in a drawing class and your instructor says, “Well, think about drawing the negative space,” that’s an exercise in shifting perspective right? It goes from a concrete example to a more abstract example. I remember being in elementary school and the art teacher telling us that as kids you draw eyeballs at the top of the head because in your mind that’s where eyeballs are. And then he draws a head and he shows you that the eyes are closer to the halfway point and you’re like, “Huh.” It’s so important to realize that what you think you know might not be true. And those are things that come from figure drawing, or drawing from observation.


PU: It’s almost like you’re saying it’s not necessarily the thing that’s produced as much, but just the practice of doing it is what shapes or changes the way you look at the world.

K: Yeah, really. I think those are  important moments when you’re like, “Wow, I really thought I knew that and it turns out I didn’t.” When students wouldn’t like the things that I showed them in class, I was like, “Well, that shouldn’t mean you don’t want to see it.” I feel like I’ve been driven as an artist more by the things I don’t like because that helps me find what I’m interested in doing. I try to think about that for programming here because there might be art that people encounter that they don’t like or they respond negatively to, but that shouldn’t necessarily be an unwanted experience. It should hopefully be enlightening in some way.

I have used the color gold in my work for many years and it originated from this idea where I was always questioning the value of art and who decides what it’s worth. Ideas about what makes art valuable are really interesting to me. I really love the idea of people, regular people, being able to live with real art and it not being set aside for people with more means. That’s tricky because I also value the work I do. So that’s part of what’s driven me to make some of these pieces where they’re reproductions, but then I’m trying to make them originals. I think my kids should live with art. I think everyone should live with art. I feel like part of my mission is to make it possible for art to be a regular part of regular lives. Whether that means walking by and stopping in for a look or buying it for your living room. Both are fine with me.

PU: What is your vision for this space and how do you see yourself in the Kent context?

K: Career-wise, I feel like I was ready to prioritize what I was doing and what I thought I could do. So that was part of this. The other part was to try to support other artists who also want to prioritize their work and have a space to show and get feedback and exposure. In terms of the Kent context, I love that Troppus Projects can help make contemporary art a part of everyday life for our community. It’s just always there and accessible and doesn’t require planning a trip to the museum, which of course is also great! I try to have hands on activities that anyone can do when they stop in. People seem to feel more comfortable in the space and engage a little bit more when there’s an interactive opportunity. I’ve noticed that. I love the idea of creating a space that doesn’t seem quite as formal and outside of one's everyday experiences.

“...I love that Troppus Projects can help make contemporary art a part of everyday life for our community so that it’s just always there and accessible and doesn’t require planning a trip to the museum...”

You can visit Troppus Projects at 141 S Water Street. Hours and more information can be found by visiting
Not in Kent? You can shop for art in the Troppus Projects online store!