BEST ART GALLERY - 2008
First Amendment Gallery
Few commercial ventures offer more risk than art galleries. Sure, paintings, sculpture, assemblages, and whatnot are solid investments...as long as you buy the right ones. They're also one of the first things even the most passionate aficionado passes on when times get hard. Factor in a fickle public and an extremely low looker-to-buyer ratio, and opportunities for ruination lurk in every clean, well-lit corner. Some local galleries—the mighty SooVAC and Midway Contemporary Arts, for example—fashion elaborate safety nets from private donations and foundation money, while the likes of Shoebox and Placement forge alliances with other local businesses. But First Amendment finances art with, well, art. The compact exhibition area in the gallery's northeast Minneapolis warehouse space opens onto graphic powerhouse Burlesque of North America's production facility, a huge room filled with the printing gear that helps pay the gallery's bills and provides added visual excitement when opening-night crowds inevitably spill over. First Amendment's principals—Mike Davis, Todd Bratrud, Lonny Unitas, Wes Winship, Aaron Horkey, resident DJ Mike the 2600 King, et al.—are all respected artists in their own right, with far-reaching connections, dead-on curatorial instincts, and a profound understanding of their clientele's budgets. To wit: You can walk out of First Amendment full-handed for less than you'd spend on a night of serious drinking. Add live entertainment from Calvin Johnson, Building Better Bombs, and a slew of other local and national luminaries, a substantial presence at SXSW 2008, a commitment to DJ culture demonstrated every Tuesday at the Triple Rock's Triple Double blowouts, and voila!—a formidable institution, built from the ground up by a crew that has been hanging out since high school, when a collective love of graffiti brought them together.