Downtown’s Metro Gallery is One Man’s Passion-Driven Retirement Plan
In 2011, Dean Settle retired after serving for 14 years as director of Community Mental Health Center in Lincoln when he learned that the center would be losing its public funding. Settle was 72 at the time and had devoted 51 years to the mental health field. To see the collective memory of the center gone, which had served an average 5,000 patients and operated 43 programs, was devastating to him. Settle and his wife went out to dinner that night to reflect upon his long career over a bottle of wine. Inevitably, the conversation drifted toward, “What next?”, and, more importantly, “What are you going to do with all the art at the office?”
“I had art up and down the hallways to my office,” Settle said. “And anybody who worked for me, if they wanted art for their office, I would give them art—I had too much.”
Although not an artist himself, Settle had begun collecting art as a sophomore in college while studying psychology, and later, community rehabilitation administration. Throughout his adult life, any disposable income usually went to art—including a large amount created by people living with mental illness, which Settle calls “Outsider Art.”
However, Settle wasn’t inclined to put any of his retirement budget toward storage for all of his art that was hanging at the center. All of a sudden, the wheels were in motion to open Metro Gallery right next to Settle’s favorite framing shop at 13th and N Streets in downtown Lincoln.
Metro Gallery is now in its eighth year, housing one of the largest, most eclectic art collections in Lincoln. It’s filled floor-to-ceiling with art, using former office spaces as feature galleries and a large basement area—formerly the Zoo Bar’s after-hours jazz club in the early 80s—to house a treasure trove of paintings and prints that Settle invites you to discover, touch, and even “try out” on your wall at home before purchase.
Settle’s collection ranges from antique to modern, street art. There’s Native American art and Black American art collections. Some is local and some came from across the sea—a woman living in Rome sent Settle an art show after God told her she should.
Settle’s history working in the mental health field has had a major influence on his approach as a gallery owner and art collector.
Settle’s collection of Outsider Art (which is sometimes also referred to as “Visionary Art”) covers the walls of his office, and he continues to accrue it whenever he travels.
“It’s so unique, so unfiltered,” he said. “Each one has a story. When you think about it, a lot of major, major artists in our known history were persons with mental illness.”
Opening Metro Gallery was a decision that has since brought Settle years of joy.
“This is a great place to live and work,” Settle said. “I like being surrounded by art. It’s a great place even when there’s no customers. I can sit here, read, and listen to good jazz, and I’m happy.”
Founded in 1967, the Downtown Lincoln Association provides services and champions initiatives for maintaining and enhancing our vibrant downtown. Our vision is to create an energetic downtown environment where we live, learn, work, invest and play. DLA has evolved into a multi-faceted organization supporting a wide range of programs and activities including maintenance, economic development and advocacy.