By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
With nearly a dozen books under their belts (mostly literary debuts--500 copies a run at $2000 per--all financed from their own pockets), Detour's editors are still caught in the love-hate tug between currying favor with grants-givers and wanting to stay outside its potentially stultifying reach. The operation, they admit, is at the crossroads, caught between doing the "suck up" dance with funders or dying the "sucked dry" death of so many other inspired forays into experimental writing. Erik Belgum's Star Fiction, funded by a project grant from the Jerome Foundation and slated for publication in December, does promise to buck up the couple's spirits a bit. But for now, they're sucking Life Savers--and holding fast.
THROUGHout its seven-year history of presenting visual and performance art, No Name Exhibitions has always managed to get by with less while paradoxically going for more. The nonprofit's recent purchase from the Pillsbury Foundation of a three-story industrial building on the Mississippi--for one dollar--is a perfect embodiment of that attitude. The building is quite the fixer-upper, to put it mildly: dead birds laying around, busted-out windows, and floors that, prior to receiving several power-washings, were covered with a smelly slime whose main ingredient was lard. But it also boasts a Mississippi riverfront location and a great city view, and most importantly, some 40,000 square feet of raw, open space. Now christened The Soap Factory, it's potentially one of the most impressive additions to the local arts scene in a long while.
Offering a venue for artists that lies somewhere in between the casual beneficence of coffee houses and the bottom-line demands of traditional galleries, No Name is the last and longest-lived noncommercial gallery in a scene that once included Rifle Sport, Artifex, and The Speedboat Gallery. Yet it's perhaps surprising that the organization would undertake such a project when, as Curatorial Director Christi Atkinson notes, "There's an impending sense of doom in the air for so many nonprofits." However, The Soap Factory is meant to provide a means of survival not just for No Name, but also for other endangered organizations, who are being recruited to rent space in the building at cost (so far, Northern Clay Center, Midwest Media Artists' Access Center, Interact Theater, the Origins Program, the Minnesota Crafts Council, and the Ethnic Dance Theatre have expressed serious interest).
It's an ambitious experiment, but also a downright practical one: Not only can resident organizations pool resources like office equipment, meeting rooms, and performance space, but in gathering under one roof as a kind of low-budget art mall, they collectively increase their profile as individual organizations. And with any luck, The Soap Factory could revive the moribund scene down the street at St. Anthony Main and Riverplace, in the same way that the arts have long sparked the development of areas previously viewed as marginal or undesirable.
While No Name's foray into real estate may have been a fluke, the real task lies ahead: A bare-bones renovation will cost some $750,000, cut back from an estimate at nearly double that. For an organization used to running on next to nothing (No Name currently has just one paid staffer working part-time), raising that kind of money is not without risks. Still, within a few months of closing on the building, the group had cleaned it up enough to hold a benefit and curate not one, but three shows (Soap Number One, running in conjunction with an off-site installation from the Walker's "Brilliant!" show, is on view through November 25).
"When you look at it on paper, an organization like No Name shouldn't be able to do this," says Board Chair Elizabeth Crawford. Which may be precisely the reason they should.
JOEL Sass, founder and artistic director of the Mary Worth Theater Company with actor/producer Jeff Towne, seems to have located an invisible audience with a loony adaptation of Jacqueline Susann's pulp masterpiece Valley of the Dolls, and a women's prison flick homage, Lunatic Cellmates. Employing that unholy aesthetic trinity, "irony, parody, and camp," Sass designs shiny, strangely scaled sets (think Barbarella) on a shoe-string budget, and lets his handpicked collection of offbeat performers (many of them stand-up comedians and other non-theater people) run wild. It's theater designed for the permanently media-damaged--in other words, for all of us.
Attracted to the forebears of current melodrama like Melrose Place or Central Park West, Mary Worth "picks through the refuse, the cultural leftovers of the last three or four decades, stuff our parents and grandparents exalted which we now find appalling," says Sass. In delivering this material, the company consciously eschews the tired naturalism of most Twin Cities' performances: According to Sass, "90 percent of the theater you see in this and any other city isn't theatrical anymore."
After three years of scenic design and production managing at Theatre de la Jeune Lune and other local stages, Sass, 28, currently holds down a job in a sleepy office in the IDS building. "This is basically the first time we've confessed that we're not full-time artists. Well, we are--but in order to really be that, you also have to do something else." Often, the alternative is feeding one's work through the complex machinery of arts grants, with an attendant concession to what Sass terms "socially edifying" theater--increasingly a necessity as the sun sets on the NEA, and foundations redirect funds to arts outfits posing as social programs.