Kelsey O’Brien and Michelle Ballantyne build upon an 11-year friendship and a shared love of photography to launch MK Envision Galleries


Look through old notebooks belonging to Kelsey O’Brien and Michelle Ballantyne, best friends since business school, and you’ll likely find dozens of scribbled business ideas—the early brainstorms that eventually conceived their new endeavor. MK Envision Galleries, the brainchild of Kelsey, Michelle and a silent partner (hint: It’s Michelle’s dad), is the friends’ ambition come to fruition. A fine art photography gallery in Liberty Station that opened in October 2016, the project is the result of a shared love of photography and a strong interest in business ownership.

“Michelle and I met 11 years ago when we were freshmen studying business at University of San Diego,” says Kelsey, a third-generation San Diegan. “We clicked right away, became friends and always worked on projects together. We knew from the beginning that we’d eventually go into business together.”

While opening a gallery was not one of the plans that made it into their notebook of ideas, all the two amateur photographers needed was a push from Michelle’s dad, a successful CEO, to lead them to what’s become one of the best decisions of their lives.

“Growing up, my dad would try to help me with ideas of things to do,” Michelle says. “He wanted me to have a job that was more than just a job, and he was always a great advocate. When he suggested a gallery, it fit. Even though Kelsey and I aren’t showing our work now, we both love travel and photography, and my dad suggested the idea, anticipating that one day we’ll be able to show our work.”

Until then, the women are relishing the opportunity to discover new artists and meet with local photographers interested in showcasing their work in a unique gallery whose mission is to support San Diego photographers.

“When we were devising business ideas, two underlying passions were supporting local—we are both strong advocates for supporting the mom-and-pops—and showcasing our love and appreciation for the outdoors, nature and conservation efforts,” Kelsey says. “What better way to do that than by showing the world landscape photography created by local artists who share that same appreciation for the beauty that’s around us?”

MK Envision Galleries features a rotating seasonal exhibit with the qualifier that the photographer is a San Diego resident with a focus on landscape photography, or what Kelsey calls “a blanket term that includes man-made structures and cityscapes, but mostly pure nature that hasn’t been touched by the human hand.” While the photographers must be local, their imagery can depict landscapes from across the globe.

“We love including San Diego landscapes because they’re so beautiful,” says Michelle, who has lived in Ocean Beach for eight years. “But most San Diego photographers also love to travel, so we are open to images from all over the world.”

No matter what they showcase, Kelsey and Michelle are hopeful their gallery visitors are as inspired as they are by what’s on exhibit.

“We really enjoy analyzing and assessing the photography because a lot of it gives you very raw emotion,” Kelsey says. “It’s so inspiring to hear people’s reactions to the work when they’re also inspired or in awe. It’s fun to hear people go through the same emotions we do—that will never get old.” 

[Visit MK Envision Galleries at 2710 Historic Decatur Road #101, San Diego, or online at mkenvision.com. Stop by July 29 for the Opening Reception of the work of Evgeny Yorobe. ]