WHITTIER — When Lindsay Nohl founded Light Grey Art Lab in 2012, it was a passion project, an attempt to create a multi-purpose space serving the local creative community, a place where artists and designers could learn, collaborate and exhibit their latest work.
It officially opened in March of that year at 26th & Stevens a few blocks from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design campus, where Nohl was a longtime adjunct faculty member. Nohl relocated her Paper Bicycle design company from Lyn-Lake to the basement of the new space, and the upstairs became the gallery-slash-classroom-slash-workshop space that is Light Grey Art Lab.
This March, Light Grey Art Lab celebrates its fifth anniversary by opening five art exhibitions simultaneously, showcasing a recently expanded and remodeled space for exhibitions, art sales and workshops that is three times the size of its original gallery. The offices of Paper Bicycle are still just downstairs, but that business — while still part of the financial engine that keeps Light Grey Art Lab running — seems nearly overshadowed by its thriving offshoot.
What was once an ambitious side project has become, in many ways, the focus.
In fact, talking with Nohl and her husband, Chris Hajny — who works as a designer for Paper Bicycle while managing public relations and producing exhibitions for Light Grey Art Lab — it can be hard to tell where their personal lives end and Light Grey Art Lab begins.
Nohl said Light Grey Art Lab is the bigger time commitment these days. Their personal interests — gaming for Hajny, tarot for Nohl — have driven several of the group exhibitions that attract submissions from illustrators, designers, animators, cartoonists and other creative types spread across the United States and beyond.
The grand opening for the expanded exhibition and classroom space is March 3; four days later, Hajny jets off to Japan with Light Grey Art Lab gallery manager Jenny Bookler, where they’ll be leading a cultural tour in and around Osaka. (Nohl plans to join them partway through their seven-week stay.) This trip and upcoming excursions to Ireland and England are just one more facet of Light Grey Art Lab’s mission to build connections between members of a global creative community.
For the team behind Light Grey Art Lab, the expansion of their Whittier neighborhood space is a way to do more, bigger, better. But it was initiated, in part, by more practical concerns, like having to constantly rearrange the furniture to accommodate different aspects of Light Grey Art Lab’s varied programming. An island of white, high top tables might host a workshop with a visiting artist one night, only to disappear when the same room transformed to host a gallery exhibition the next night.
“I’m just being honest: Moving these tables up and down from the basement is the worst,” Nohl said. Stashing the furniture in the basement also cluttered-up their Paper Bicycle workspace.
The idea snowballed from there: If they were try to find a permanent space on the main floor for those tables and chairs, why not open it up as a community meeting space, somewhere a visiting storyboard artist could teach a workshop with aspiring animators?
A dedicated workshop area is just part of the expansion, which also includes the Salon, for guest-curated exhibitions; the Page Gallery, where they plan to feature narrative art, including comics; the Satellite Gallery for solo exhibitions; and a new artists shop for selling prints, zines and the Light Grey Art Lab products — like artist-designed tarot decks — that blend the lab crew’s personal and professional interests in art and product design. The old galleries will continue to host the themed group exhibitions that are a Light Grey Art Lab specialty, often attracting 70-plus contributors creating art in response to a prompt.
In the new spaces, fewer of the exhibition ideas will start with the Light Grey Art Lab brain trust and more will come from their growing community of creative collaborators.
“I think this will be really cool — to infuse what we’re doing with other people’s passions,” Nohl said.
The expansion also pushes Light Grey Art Lab into a more visible space at the corner of its home in a three-story, 115-year-old brick commercial building (also home to Tanek, an architecture and design firm). The windows look out onto a fast-developing area of Whittier, including the new, 75-unit Chroma apartment building across the street and Wesley Andrews, a high-end cafe that opened in the fall.
“We’re lucky enough to be in a neighborhood where the community is really involved,” Nohl said. “I was walking down the street and a lady today handed me a bag of art materials out her window as I was getting my coffee.”
Light Grey Art Lab fifth anniversary celebration
When: 7 p.m.–10 p.m. March 3
Where: Light Grey Art Lab, 118 E. 26th St., #101