From storefronts to basements

WHITTIER — Whittier Artists in Storefronts is the perpetual motion machine of the local arts scene, spinning off a new round of art installations and events every few months.

If not exactly breaking the laws of physics, Joan Vorderbruggen is at least setting an impressive benchmark for stamina as the organizer of the project, already in its third run since launching this past spring. As usual, Vorderbruggen has a few dozen artists lined up to transform vacant and underused storefronts on and around Eat Street with art installations, but a new collaborator will be taking Artists and Storefronts somewhere it hasn’t been before: underground.

Local performance artist Jaime Carrera is the curator of Outlet, a “pop-up performance festival” taking place Saturday evenings in the spacious basement of Los Amigos, a corner bodega located across Blaisdell Avenue from Fire Station 8. To call the space bare bones would be an understatement, but it’s amazing what some lights, a bit of glitter and a few props can do.

Carrera assembled a lineup that mixes music, performance and dance — including some artists who fit into more than one of those categories. That makes for nights like this: the New Wave-y, synthesizer-driven sound of CLAPS meets the ghoulish punk-cabaret of The Funeral and the Twilight on Jan. 5; and pop culture-mining dancer-choreographer Angharad Davies is paired Feb. 2 with BodyCartography Project, the globetrotting experimental dance group.

Above ground, Vorderbruggen’s efforts — underwritten to a certain extent the Whittier Alliance neighborhood organization and an anonymous donor — are paying off with renewed vitality in some beleaguered commercial spaces.

Not that all of Eat Street needs the help; the intersection of Nicollet & 26th seems livelier than ever following the Ice House Court redevelopment. But the fact that several long-vacant spaces on Nicollet Avenue are now occupied is due in no small part to the positive attention Vorderbruggen has drawn to the area, said Marian Biehn, executive director of the Whittier Alliance neighborhood organization.

Even some property owners who don’t necessarily play nice with the neighborhood organization have perked up after hearing Vorderbruggen’s art-makes-commerce pitch.

“She has a way of charming them into participation,” Biehn said.

Carrera said she’s a “doer,” and it’s as simple as that.

“She likes to get things done,” he said. “When she gets an idea, it doesn’t take that many steps to bring it to fruition, and I’m the same way.”

Contact Dylan Thomas at dthomas@mnpubs.com