Northeast Minneapolis gallery Public Functionary has been at its current location since 2013, where it has hosted solo shows by local and national artists, and has been a go-to spot for social justice groups, artist collaborations, fashion events, and dance performances.
Launched with the help of a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $30,000, Public Functionary has always been the little gallery that could. Run by a pair of artists, curator Tricia Heuring and designer Mike Sommers-Bishop, it operates as a fiscally sponsored nonprofit in partnership with Springboard for the Arts.
Highlights from the last six years include Bobby Rogers’ sensational photography exhibition “The Blacker the Berry,” Leslie Barlow’s luminous portraits of interracial families, and a riotous performance installation, called “In Which _______ and Others Discover The End,” that featured writer Rachel Jendrzejewski, art-rock band Brute Heart, performance collective SuperGroup, and artist Liz Miller.
Heuring believes that the story of Public Functionary has been one of discovery. “We’ve always been chameleon-like, trying to figure out who we are and what communities we serve,” she says.
About a year and a half ago, organization leaders began having conversations about the limitations of the gallery, and how their need for space had changed since they first started as simply a visual arts gallery. After considering questions of maintaining space, sustaining space, and whether they had enough space, Public Functionary ultimately decided to not resign their lease.
The original idea was to find a new space in the coming year, but that hasn’t happened yet.
“We didn’t [find a new space as planned] because maintaining and doing all the programming at Public Functionary doesn’t allow us the time to step back and strategize and fundraise and look at spaces and really think about what we want to be,” Heuring says.
Gallery organizers are now set to take a short hiatus from programming so they can figure out the next phase of Public Functionary.
“We are looking for a space that will accommodate a lot of what Public Functionary has been doing, which is to be transformable and to serve different art forms and to be a hybrid space,” she says.
In the current gallery, there’s only one room, one bathroom, and they are located in a residential neighborhood. Exhibitions are mounted for a month, but if they rent the placeout to make money, often the exhibition can’t stay up for that whole period.
“We’ve operated really well with earned income, and with partnerships, and rentals, and it’s allowed us to operate outside of the restrictions of the nonprofit arts model,” Heuring says. “But the space is a barrier right now. We can’t do all the things we want to do.”
Public Functionary is currently on the hunt for a new location, hopefully in northeast Minneapolis. “It would be ideal to stay in northeast, because we’ve kind of been a hub,” she says. “There’s not another space like ours in Northeast, so that would be missing.”
Both Heuring and her co-director Mike Bishop-Sommers live in Northeast. “That’s the community that I’m rooted in, know, and shop in, and have lunch and buy groceries. It’s an economy that I want to contribute to,” she says. “But Northeast is also becoming increasingly expensive... I don’t think we’d move across town, but I think we’re open to areas that are close in proximity.”
They have also been reflecting on arts nonprofits that have had to close in recent years, including Intermedia Arts, Franklin Art Works, and the still open (but not looking hopeful) Soap Factory.
“I’m really aware of what’s happened to the nonprofit art scene, and I’m trying to think about what do we do different,” Heuring says. “What does it mean to operate an alternative space in the city?”
Heuring plans to secure a space by the end of the year. Then, it’s a matter of launching a capital campaign in order to open in 2020.
For now though, come on over to Public Functionary for one last party.
IF YOU GO:
But wait. One last party first.
5 p.m. to midnight Saturday, April 20
1400 12th Ave. NE, Minneapolis