Ground Floor: Big Picture Gallery owner plots the business of art

Many factors come into play, entrepreneur says

Artwork for sale is on display at Big Picture Gallery and Studio in North Liberty on Friday, December 15, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Artwork for sale is on display at Big Picture Gallery and Studio in North Liberty on Friday, December 15, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

The owner of a new North Liberty business hopes to make art more accessible to the community.

Becky Popelka opened Big Picture Gallery and Studio in North Liberty the day after Labor Day. The business offers children’s art classes, workshops and parties, wine and paint parties for adults, and pieces for sale by local artists.

Popelka said her interest in opening her own art school dates back to her time as an art student at Cornell College in Mount Vernon.

“My goal when I started college and learned more about myself was to be my own boss,” she said. “But first I had to establish myself as an artist, teacher and professional in the community.”

After earning her visual arts and art education degree, Popelka taught art for a few years — first in Cairo, Egypt, and then at Clayton Ridge School District in northeast Iowa.

She returned to school in 2008 to obtain a Masters of Fine Arts degree in graphic design from Iowa State University and, upon graduation, spent six years teaching K-8 art classes at Regina High School in Iowa City.

It was during a spring break trip earlier this year when Popelka finally decided to pursue her longtime dream. She tendered her resignation upon her return from vacation and, while finishing out the school year, worked late into the evenings to set up her business.

“I wanted to be really thoughtful about where I placed my business,” the Iowa City resident said about her decision to locate in North Liberty. “There’s more competition in Iowa City — not necessarily other art schools but other forms of entertainment.”


Other factors leading Popelka to North Liberty were the city’s large population of young families with children and generally lower rental costs than in downtown Iowa City.

Popelka said one of her biggest challenges was developing a class schedule. She began by offering 90-minute themed sessions for the first month, and sent out a survey to her clients to determine future class offerings.

“There are so many factors that come into play,” she said. “My analysis of the data told me I needed the most flexible schedule as possible to get the highest number of students as possible.”

To that end, Popelka added 60-minute classes offered in four-week sessions. Courses are based on grade level and include options for painting, ceramics and mixed media.

All courses teach the elements of art, principles of design, and art vocabulary and concepts. Private lessons also are available.

Popelka said her art party packages for birthdays and other special events have helped bring new students to the school. Enrollment has more than doubled over the school’s first three monthly sessions.

“You don’t need an academic background to approach this place,” Popelka said. “The classes are fun, but this is a place where real learning and real artistic growth happens.”


Owner: Becky Popelka

Business: Big Picture Gallery and Studio

Address: 185 Highway 965, Suite 3, North Liberty

Phone: (319) 343-7240



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