by Juleana Enright
The buzz surrounding Northeast Minneapolis’s soon-to-launch art gallery, Public Functionary, started earlier this fall. Mysterious micro video teasers popped up where thought-provoking art quotes accompanied haunting visuals which probed viewers to Watch/Listen/Like/Discuss. Community feedback posts littered the gallery’s Facebook with queries directed towards local art supporters, such as “What makes an art space seem accessible and welcoming?” Despite an enigmatic inception, it is apparent that Public Functionary is going to be unlike any other gallery. (Today they launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund some of the changes being made to their building.) Though still in a semi-conceptual state, not only is PF an art space that cares about what an artist wants and needs from a gallery, but one that takes into painstaking consideration the requisites of a community.
Visit Public Functionary’s website and you’ll find the same caliber of art-focused stirring questions and quotes. In one, a distressed collector named Thomas Olbricht laments, “I am worried that our next generation will have no desire to go to a so-called ‘museum.’ They don’t have to. They can see everything at home on a computer. That is why more has to be done. It has to be a new experience. Haptic, acoustic, but also something amazing to see, at least around the next corner, you’ll find something unexpected.”
Empowered by these concerns and pressed by an evolving art agenda, the innovative hybrid gallery/art museum, Public Functionary, launches into their Kickstarter campaign this week and continues to prep local art enthusiasts and those new to the art scene for a transcendental art experience in 2013.
This week, I caught up with Public Functionary Director/Curator Tricia Khutoretsky to detail the goals of Public Functionary, chat about their exciting Kickstarter incentives and explain the importance of redefining – for a modern generation – how we experience contemporary art.
l’étoile: How was the idea for Public Functionary conceived?
Khutoretsky: Everything about Public Functionary comes from a place of practice and experience and grew out of circumstance. I was working as a curator for Permanent Art and Design Group’s two previous galleries, CO Exhibitions and XYandZ last year, while also independently developing an art program for a nonprofit, The Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project. The opportunity to see how art could be used as a platform for dialogue along with the opportunity to try out innovative ways of presenting art at CO and XYandZ led to a new hybrid idea. The smart team at Permanent, who collectively have diverse backgrounds in art, have collaborated with me on the concepts for Public Functionary so together we’ve brought our past experiences, research and understanding of trends and challenges, and what the art community in Minneapolis might need out of a new space. Also, working with Permanent Art and Design, a for-profit creative agency and realizing the possibility for approaching a non-profit model differently led to inspiration for the structure of the organization.
l’étoile: How have the “community feedback” comments – displayed on Public Functionary’s Facebook page – been instrumental in shaping the design space?
Khutoretsky: The community feedback comment sheets were something we put out for the community to leave ideas at our recent open house events. They’re so great! Some of the ideas are really innovative—for example a new approach to gallery lighting, or how to make people feel welcome in the space. We’re not just taking these ideas into consideration, we’re implementing them.
l’étoile: Tell us about Public Functionary’s building and the dynamic between Permanent and The Lab.
Khutoretsky: We found the building together with the intention of partnering. While each business has its separate purpose we hope that there is also a synergy created between the three. Once Public Functionary is up and running, the building will be home to Public Functionary as an exhibition/event space as well as an office space for the arts-based creative agency (Permanent), who will be Public Functionary’s design, marketing and technology consultant, and the Lab Digital. The Lab Digital, already an amazing resource to artists, galleries and museums as a digital printer, will also collaborate with Public Functionary in developing limited edition artists reproductions and other printed media. We see the whole building as a full service resource for the artists we work with. Showing at Public Functionary should be a unique and supportive experience for an artist.
l’étoile: Where did the name “Public Functionary” come from and what’s the story behind its branding?
Khutoretsky: The name was tough but worth it because what we came up with holds a lot of meaning. I think it took us several months to figure out something that we loved. We had an idea of what we wanted it to feel like, but these days almost everything has already been taken or used. We did some research on President Buchanan, given that the building is located on Buchanan in NE and found out that despite being one of the worst presidents in history, he had nicknamed himself “The Old Public Functionary.” A little time on Google revealed no connections another business or entity, and we really liked the mysterious yet serious sound that the words have. As a non-profit, Public Functionary makes sense, the space is more for the benefit of the public and not the people who run it. The designer we worked with, Amelia LeBarron, incorporated the “P” and the “F” into an X shaped logo, which looks much like transport logos seen on the trains that run directly past our building every day. X as in the Roman numeral 10, is also a nod to the train bridge next to our space, marked as mile “10.0”
l’étoile: You’re launching a Kickstarter campaign this week. What kinds of incentives are being offered?
Khutoretsky: We’re super excited about the Kickstarter incentives. some really talented and supportive artist friends of ours (Michael Cina, Jennifer Davis, Drew Peterson, Kristie Bretzke, Michael Thomsen, Vadim Gershman, David Jensen and Isaac Gale) have donated limited edition art prints (printed by The Lab) as well as original works of art. We’ve included incentives that represent what the building will provide in the future… consulting services with Permanent at a discounted rate, tickets to Northstar Bartenders Guild events (they are our bar partners) and event rentals in the gallery, etc. Also offered are Public Functionary memberships and merch items. It’s pretty dramatic and grand, but at $10,000 you can host an all inclusive event in the space for 100 people… the donor of this amount picks a theme or idea, and we’ll turn the entire space into an art installation in that theme for their event as well as provide staff, food, drinks, artist designed invitations and a guest DJ.
Khutoretsky: Everything about the space has been developed as a response to the way art can be exhibited and presented given the current state of culture, communication and technology. Our approach to exhibition design is that it needs to be flexible and engaging, the space will utilize moveable walls and unexpected presentation. A focus on documentation means a commitment to a parallel online space that is a resource and an archive of the process, experience and dialog about the work, through various forms of media. Our focus on collection will be about encouraging new collectors by drawing from established collectors, the stories and motivations behind collection as a means of artist support as much as a love for surrounding yourself with beautiful visual things. And lastly, community is about making this space warm, welcoming and engaging and exploring how to connect the community more thoughtfully to the arts shown and the artists who create it. As well, we’d like to help develop the community in the Northeast Arts District and explore how our space can engage a diverse community continue the evolution of the area towards arts integration without homogenization.
l’étoile: Why is it so important to incorporate elements of the modern social engagement and current technology into the presentation of contemporary art?
Khutoretsky: I think this is important because contemporary art is all about the present moment. Often people don’t fully connect to contemporary art because it is too immediate to their everyday experience of life. If my goal is to add context and connection for people as a means to more deeply engage them with art, it only makes sense to use the tools that can make art relevant to them. If we remain tied to the idea of contemporary art shown only on white walls in a white box, I think we will quickly lose interest. Contemporary art changes with the social context of the time in which it is created, the presentation of it should as well.
l’étoile: What’s the plan for the gallery’s grand opening?
Khutoretsky: Nothing that I can share quite yet! Our philosophy on this process is to tackle one thing at a time and to roll things out as surprises. We are currently focused on the Kickstarter campaign, the plan for build-out and the first year of exhibitions. We don’t expect to show an official exhibit until early 2013 and want to avoid connecting a particular exhibit to the space opening, because we want the space to be more than just a gallery. But stay tuned, we have some exciting launch events so keeping up with our social media outlets for details is a good idea!
l’étoile: As someone heavily involved in the local art scene, what is the biggest challenge you face when debuting a new artist, promoting an exhibit or introducing a new art movement? How do you garner audience interest? How do you frame the exhibit to highlight the artist’s vision?
Khutoretsky: One thing that I am working on in terms of facing challenges or feeling hesitant about introducing new ideas, is to trust both my instinct as a curator and my responsibility as a conduit for artists. My approach involves spending time with the artists that I am working with and familiarizing myself with their work and process. But it’s also important for me to connect with them as creative people. If I am passionate and I believe in something, I can feel confident about sharing it with an audience. I think that people truly want to be inspired and are always open to new ideas… but if you don’t believe in what you’re selling, why should they?