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Photo courtesy of Sara Reshaw

Bill Ryan’s “Road to Breckinridge” series can be seen at the Younger Gallery.

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Photo courtesy of Linda Brown

"Coy Spring" by Linda Brown is part of her exhibit, "Spring - A Breath of Fresh Air," opening Friday at Dagny's Coffee Co.

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"Air Born" by Linda Brown is part of her exhibit, "Spring - A Breath of Fresh Air," opening Friday at Dagny's Coffee Co.

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"The Air is Like a Butterfly" by Linda Brown is part of her exhibit, "Spring - A Breath of Fresh Air," opening Friday at Dagny's Coffee Co.

From the time it opened nearly 10 years ago, the Younger Gallery has been operated on a rent-free basis by the Arts Council of Kern.

Yet in the last few years exhibits have been shown on a sporadic basis and potential visitors have complained it's often not open.

Now sculptor Betty Younger, owner of the downtown gallery that bears her name, has taken back the reins and appointed contemporary painter Mike Barker as director and curator.

In a series of conversations over the past several days, both artists filled me in on the details and also gave me a preview of "Begin a New Day," their first venture, which opens Friday.

Younger explained that she hopes to make the gallery a source of pride for Bakersfield residents and a destination point for out-of-town visitors.

"I want to go back to the core values of what I wanted the gallery to be," she said. "The real goal is to promote artists -- local and from out of town -- and to encourage cooperation with businesses in our community."

Accordingly, the new show is being sponsored by locally owned Uniglobe Golden Empire Travel with the idea of demonstrating that fine art and culture can be enjoyed at home and abroad.

Even though the Arts Council is no longer setting the policy for the gallery, both the owner and the curator affirmed their support for the organization.

"This is not a break-away from the Arts Council," Barker said. "We're giving them 25 percent of the sales from this show."

Younger said she's been concerned about the council's financial difficulties over the past nine months as well as its leadership.

"I'm still on the board and I really want it to succeed," she said. "But with only two people (on staff) they don't have the personnel to run the gallery. They only had four shows last year and I want it to be open year-round."

Starting next week, the gallery will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Friday in its ground-floor suite at the Bank of America building, owned by Betty and Milt Younger.

Artwork being shown in the current exhibition includes several of Younger's small sculptures and an array -- about 30 pieces -- of new paintings by three artists who are closely linked to the owner and to one another: Veteran teacher, painter and occasional actor Bill Ryan; his son, Dan Ryan, a professional actor who claims he literally ate his father's paints as a 2-year-old; and Barker, a retired welder and established painter who started taking art lessons from the elder Ryan in 1967 as a freshman at North High School.

The younger Ryan, 61, and Barker, 60, consider the exhibit a way of recognizing Younger and Bill Ryan for their lifelong contributions to the growth and appreciation of all areas of the arts in the community.

"I want to celebrate my dad and Betty one last time," Dan Ryan said, noting that both of his mentors are in their 80s. "Dad's playing in overtime and I'm in the fourth quarter."

Even so, one really can't say the elder Ryan is slowing down. Among the pieces in the show is a series of narrative oil paintings done with deep, rich color. Each represents his recent journey from the blazing red-orange valley floor to the cool dark green of Breckenridge Mountain.

In keeping with the theme of the show, Dan Ryan, who co-hosts a weekly radio program with his wife, Uniglobe travel consultant Sara Reshaw, said a short video courtesy of Crystal Cruises will be shown.

Refreshments will be served at the opening and free parking is available in the Bank of America garage on 17th Street, adjacent to the gallery.

Linda Brown at Dagny's

Artist Linda Brown's new exhibit at Dagny's, "Spring -- A Breath of Fresh Air," is an expansion of what she did for a 2011 project on "cleaner air" sponsored by the Arts Council and exhibited at the Younger Gallery.

"In this new body of work," she said, "I have revisited this theme but with a new eye and a concentration on trees in bloom."

Each of the 10 mixed-media pieces in her current exhibit reflects the cycle of tree respiration, a molecular process in which a tree takes in carbon dioxide and transforms it into oxygen.

A portion of the profits from the show will be donated to the Tree Foundation of Kern, a local nonprofit whose purpose is to advance a sustainable urban and community forestry plan in Kern County.

Theater's new season

Artistic director Bob Kempf sent me The Empty Space's choices for the second half of the 2013 season.

"The majority of these plays have a strong theme of looking at our past to understand our world now," he said. "I find that very inspiring as The Empty Space enters its 11th year."

Here's the list, with Kempf's slightly edited program notes.

July 12-20: "The Role I Was(n't) Born to Play," conceived and directed by Kristina Saldana. A fresh twist on some of Broadway's most popular tunes.

Aug. 2-10: "Charm," by Kathleen Cahill; Kevin Lohmann, director. Based on the life of Margaret Fuller, the first female American book critic and war correspondent.

Sept. 6-28: "A Midsummer Night's Dream," by William Shakespeare; Bob Kempf, director. The play, set in a California mining town in 1850, features four mismatched lovers.

Oct. 11-26: "Cannibal! The Musical," by Trey Parker; Michelle Guerrero and Taylor Lozano, co-directors. The true story of Alfred Packer, a trail guide who cannibalizes his fellow travelers on the way to Colorado.

Nov. 8-23: "Our Town," by Thornton Wilder; Brian Sivesind, director. Widely considered the great American play, "Our Town" is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2013.

Dec. 6-22: "The 12 Plays of Christmas," by Ron Warren,Matthew Borton, Kayleigh Peaker, Matt Christensen and Kristina Saldana, who also direct.

The theater also seeks new members to join its board of directors starting in July. Those interested should email executive director Brian Sivesind at brianjsivesind@gmail.com. A letter of interest and a professional resume are due by Monday.

This 'Mermaid' see-worthy

More than two dozen young thespians are hoping to make a splash this weekend with Disney's "The Little Mermaid Jr.," presented by Tonicism, a theater workshop for children.

The show runs for three performances, at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday at The Empty Space, 706 Oak St. Admission is $10; $5 for children under 18.