Art Box, a new performance space run by Off-Leash Area, opens this Saturday

Jennifer Ilse and Paul Herwig jumped for joy when they announced their purchase in March 2017.

Jennifer Ilse and Paul Herwig jumped for joy when they announced their purchase in March 2017. OLA

Jennifer Ilse, who runs Off-Leash Area with her husband, Paul Herwig, searched for a permanent home for their theater company for nearly three years before settling on a space in Nokomis East, a neighborhood that doesn’t have a lot going on in the performing arts.

“We really wanted to stay in Minneapolis,” Ilse says. This was in part because the couple lives in the city and the location is easily accessible by transit. Ilse and Herwig liked the building’s high ceilings, but it needed a lot of love and care.

The outside, now polka-dot.

The outside, now polka-dot. OLA

“It was a dirty, stinky, just kind of cement open space,” Ilse says. Originally an auto shop, the building was also a laundromat and a video store before sitting empty for eight years. Ilse and Herwig invested in repairs to the HVAC system, plumbing, and electricity. They laid down an old gym floor with masonite on top, which creates a sprung floor that dance companies use.

Now that the company has its own space, OLA will begin to expand its programming. The couple has wanted to start a mentorship program as a way to give back to younger artists. “We’ve cranked out 30 new productions by now. We are really good at getting it out there,” she says. “We do see a lot of people coming out of school that don’t have all the pieces together to make that happen.”

While the mentorship program is still in the planning stages, they don't want the program to be too constricting. “We want to set up a structure that is as loose as possible,” she says.

Ilse also hopes that OLA will be able to put together a family-friendly contemporary performing arts festival in the future. They also plan to host the Made Here Festival, which is curated by Herwig, at the Art Box this spring. Ilse also is planning her first full-length solo performance for the space.

Art Box will act as a rental house, which will aid in its sustainability. The building is owned by Ilse and Herwig, and will be rented out to OLA and other local companies when they need it. “We went into this knowing there is a lack of space, especially in Minneapolis,” Ilse says. “We knew it would be extremely useful.”

Inside the renovated space.

Inside the renovated space. OLA

Ilse says the company is seeking performance groups interested in the space. “Our passion is for original work,” she says. “There’s already quite a spectrum of things that are happening.”

This weekend, Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre opens the space with a performance by the company’s apprenticeship program, Zorongo Majas. The evening will include seven original pieces by the Majas program’s emerging dancers and choreographers.


5 and 8 p.m. Saturday
The Art Box
4200 E. 54th St., Minneapolis