Artists in Storefronts moves indoors

Gallery show celebrates public art project

Images from the inaugural spring 2012 Artists in Storefronts public art project. Credit: File photo

LYNDALE — Artists in Storefronts is trying something new: It’s moving indoors.

Yes, it was always “in storefronts,” but that generally meant viewing art from the sidewalk. Now, the Eat Street phenomenon is moving further south down Nicollet Avenue for a gallery show at SooLOCAL, the new exhibition space run by Soo Visual Arts Center.

Consider this a chance for Artists in Storefronts and organizer Joan Vorderbruggen to pause and reflect, briefly, before launching into the fourth iteration of the public art project, set to begin June 1 and run through most of the summer in the Whittier neighborhood. Fueled by a $5,000 Metropolitan Regional Arts Council grant and an anonymous donation — the second Vordergruggen’s collected since launching the project a year ago — Artists in Storefronts 4 is shaping up to be the most ambitious version of the public art project yet.

The gallery exhibition should give a good sense of what’s gone before; more than half of the 80 or so artists who previously contributed to Artists in Storefronts will have work at SooLOCAL. The challenge will be in displaying them all within the tight confines of the one-room gallery.

Vorderbruggen’s solution is to hang the work salon style, an arrangement of that space that should be familiar to anyone who visited the SooLOCAL holiday pop-up shop this winter. Expect a mix of new work and art that previously decorated vacant Eat Street storefronts, along with monitors playing clips from the Outlet performance festival (a component of Artists in Storefronts 3) and photographs documenting the project’s first full year.

Vorderbruggen was in Jyväskylä, Finland in March and so answered questions about the upcoming exhibition via email. She was there for an arts residency arranged by Will Lahti, a Minnesota-born expatriate who ran a West Bank art space in the 1990s. While visiting local artists and studying the city’s urban design, Vorderbruggen also served as curator of a pop-up gallery in a vacant commercial space, which — no surprise — sounds a lot like what she does here at home.

The pop-up, or temporary, shop has been trending for years in the worlds of art and commerce both. It’s not just galleries but also major fashion brands and retailers, including Target, who have realized the buzz-building potential of these ephemeral spaces.

SooLOCAL is one example of a pop-up that has transitioned into a semi-permanent resident of its space, the storefront previously occupied by Yeti Records and, for several years before that, Art of This Gallery. Soo Visual Arts Center Executive Director Carolyn Payne said the gallery — located about a mile south of the nonprofit’s Lyndale Avenue base — was already booked through the end of 2013, and may continue to operate into 2014.

“We’re just sort of using it as a more spontaneous exhibition space,” Payne said.

While Soo Visual Arts Center is covering utility costs for the space, its neighbor, Pat’s Tap, is footing the monthly rent bill. The implication seems to be that Pat’s Tap owner, the restaurateur Kim Bartmann, sees some synergy between art and commerce happening on the block, and Payne said she thinks the restaurant, gallery and B-Squad, the vintage clothing shop on the corner, all feed off of each other’s foot traffic, to mutual benefit.

Vorderbruggen was aiming to create a similar kind of street-level energy when she launched Artists in Storefronts last year. Long-vacant storefronts were the broken teeth in Eat Street’s smile and, like a free-lance orthodontist, Vorderbruggen filled in the gaps. In a couple of cases, the attention she brought to Nicollet Avenue even encouraged some new business owners sign leases on the empty spaces.

Vorderbruggen is scheduled to discuss her brand of entrepreneurial urbanism 6 p.m. April 10 at SooLOCAL. She’ll be joined by Whittier Alliance Executive Director Marian Biehn and several of the collaborating artists, including Outlet performance series curator Jaime Carrera, for the look back at Artists in Storefronts’ first year,

Other events scheduled for the SooLOCAL stay include a March 27 screening of films by local director Jason Wade and a March 31 performance by Carrera, whose new piece, “Cheesus,” could be the blasphemous dessert to your Easter Sunday dinner.

And then it’s back to Eat Street in June, when Artists in Storefronts opens with an outdoor music festival in the Black Forest Inn parking lot. At this point, might not “Art Street” be a better name?

“AIS 123…4: An Exhibition Celebrating Artists in Storefronts” runs through April 14 at SooLOCAL, 3506 Nicollet Ave. S. 871-2263. artistsinstorefronts.com or soovac.org.