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A New Kind of Art Space: Public Functionary

Tricia Khutoretsky, Director and Curator of Public Functionary

The Public Functionary space

The Public Functionary building, at Broadway and Buchanan

A guest at a recent Public Functionary event contributing ideas for the space

Public Functionary, a nonprofit arts center that plans to open in early 2013 in the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District, is on a mission to redefine modern-day art patronage and connect to the community in inventive ways.

Its focus is on contemporary visual art, with an emphasis on exhibiting local and national players, documenting works online, and developing a new breed of art collectors, all the while building community, according to Tricia Khutoretsky, its curator and director.

In preparation for the gallery, Khutoretsky has been pondering big questions like, “what is a gallery, what it should do,” she says. “We’re taking the time, listening, trying to figure out the best way to do it.”
As a result, the space is taking on a more social, community-oriented slant than many other commercial galleries, she says.

The gallery "responds to current technology, communication, and culture," a prepared statement from the gallery reads. 

Already, a $30,000 Kickstarter campaign, which closed last month, has generated excitement for the startup gallery, even outside of the usual art scene, she says. The Kickstarter funds will go toward the build-out of the space, along with programming needs. It was a way to “be transparent, to let people into the process.” Khutoretsky hopes this community collaboration “makes the space feel different."

The "Dream Team"

The Permanent Art and Design Group, an arts-focused creative firm, and The Lab Digital, a digital printer for galleries, artists, and museums, share space with the gallery in a one-story brick building at Broadway and Buchanan streets northeast. The three groups sought space together in Northeast as a way to “offer all of these services and resources to artists and community,” and to collaborate with each other, Khutorestsky says.

Permanent is providing design, consultation, marketing, and production to Public Functionary, forming a kind of nonprofit and for-profit hybrid, she says. The company brings marketing savvy that a small nonprofit would otherwise never be able to afford.

Kate Iverson, a partner at Permanent, says this joint venture was an opportunity to consolidate its offices into one location. Permanent was previously split among the company's former commercial galleries, including the now-defunct XYandZ Gallery and CO Exhibitions, which Burlesque of North America still maintains.

At the same time, the center is “nurturing our roots as an arts-driven business,” she says. Iverson hopes the center becomes a draw on a local and national level. “We want to show artists people are clamoring to see, so they have something to reach for,” she says. “Minneapolis should be on the radar, nationally, as an arts city."

A Sense of Place

The location has played a prominent role in branding the gallery, Khutoretsky says. For starters, its name, Public Functionary, relates to its address on Buchanan Street, and is something the team did some digging on.

The phrase “public functionary,” an archaic term for a public official, relates to U.S. President James Buchanan, who led the country between 1857 and 1861. “He used to say, ‘I’m just an old public functionary,’” according to Khutoretsky.

The group liked the term’s governmental feel. It’s about “what does it mean to exist for the public,” she says. “We’re giving it a definition, an association with the space,” and a positive spin. As a bonus, an Internet search for the keywords “public functionary” brings up the gallery right away, she says.

Additionally, an active train bridge over Buchanan Street that’s visible through the windows provides a sense of movement; it even inspired the gallery's transit-themed logo. A merged ‘P’ and F’ form the Roman numeral ‘X,’ representing the bridge, which is designated Bridge #10 by the Fedreral Highway Administration. “We felt this was ideal for the sense of place,” Khutoretsky says, adding that it seems classically Northeast and “gives [the gallery] an identity."

Letting the Community In

The 2,500-square-foot gallery, which is characterized by high ceilings, plenty of natural light, and cement floors, will have moveable walls, to allow for flexible configurations. That way, the space can be rearranged to accommodate various types of events.

Despite the fluid nature of the walls, each setup will have a permanent feel, she says. “They’ll be substantial gallery walls,” not flimsy ones, she says.

She wants to invite in local artists who need the space to see their creative endeavors come to fruition, though what form this may take is still undecided.

At the same time, “We want to find a way to maintain a strong curatorial vision,” she says.

A Thematic Approach 

Every year, the gallery will hone in on an overarching theme, with programs that speak to it. Through the year, each event will build on what came before it, Khutoretsky says. The idea is to provide context, as a way to better understand the art.

Too often, contemporary art galleries are off-putting, either in terms of the language that's used or in presentation, Khutoretsky says. Hopefully, having a consistent theme will make people more comfortable as they go along. It's a way to get people "to connect with contemporary art,” she says.

Public Functionary is also planning interactive events, including some that are family-friendly, and it will participate in community-wide art crawls, according to gallery information. 

“We’re trying to understand what it means to build community,” Khutoretsky says, acknowledging the fact that “[community] is a kind of a buzzword right now."

Developing Young Collectors 

Another area of emphasis for the gallery is developing young art collectors in order to support artists.

While philanthropy is usually considered to be elitist, “We're hoping to give people different options and ways in which to support and feel connected to an art space,” she says. Traditional commercial galleries usually depend on art sales, but the nonprofit is “more about how to create that connection that gets people to feel confident,” she says.

The Twin Cities has some big art collectors, but in general, “Art collection [here] isn’t strong,” she says. “It’s a big need.” It’s about keeping art for future generations. Without collectors, art “doesn’t get preserved,” she says. “Museums don’t have the space."

Many people love the idea of collecting art, but they’re intimidated because “They feel like they need to know about art,” she says. But collecting isn't necessarily about being an art history expert or having a lot of money. It’s a highly personal pursuit, she says.

Many people don’t realize that merely being drawn to a “gorgeous shade is enough to buy a piece,” she says. “If a piece can tell a story, that’s even better."

She hopes the gallery empowers people to get things that “make them feel something."

Anna Pratt is Development Editor of The Line.

Photos, top to bottom:

Tricia Khutoretsky, flanked by images by the mural duo Broken Crow

The "raw" Public Functionary space

The building, at Broadway and Buchanan

An attendee at a recent PF event writes down a recommendation for the use of the gallery space.

First three images by Bill Kelley; the last one is taken from PF's Kickstarter video.
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