The incidental artisan

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September 20, 2004 // UPDATED 4:06 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

Inside Outsiders and Others (non) gallery

Elliot Park's Outsiders and Others gallery is not for art insiders -- the name should tell you that much.

The gallery's curator Yuri Arajs, a painter who co-founded the gallery with Beth Parkhill, wanted to create a place for self-taught artists who find it difficult to break into the competitive art world.

"I kind of brought all the ideas together that I really love doing, which is working with marginalized artists, people who are underexposed, artists that are definitely the underdog and incorporating that with traditional artists," Arajs, 37, explained recently at the gallery.

Outsiders and Others, 1010 Park Ave. S., showcases paintings, collages, films and fashions by artists from diverse trades, such as construction, law and music. They often feature work by people with disabilities, mental illnesses and from many faiths.

The three-room gallery (complete with an exhibition area, reception room and gift shop) attracts visitors from Elliot Park and the larger Twin Cities community. Arajs says he has worked to cultivate a friendly, laid-back atmosphere.

"We try to create an environment that is very welcoming. I don't ever want anybody to come in here and feel like they don't know anything about art -- you know what you like, and that's your art," he said.

The themes of Outsiders and Others shows run the gamut from lawyer art to this month's show, "Eat This!," featuring work by artists in the food industry, including pen drawings by Dan "Klecko" McGleno, production manager for the Saint Agnes Baking Co. and founder of the St. Paul Bread Club.

Self-taught artists create about 70 percent of what's in the gallery -- trained artists do the rest. Some big names have had wall time in the gallery, too, such as local FOX News anchor Robyn Robinson and rock drummer Grant Hart.

Robinson's work dealt with issues of slavery while Hart's piece in the recent show, "Art of Rock," featured strings of metal bolts and a painting of William S. Burroughs' head. The "Art of Rock" showcased more approachable work as well, such as fashions/wearable art and band posters featured at the West Bank's Triple Rock Social Club.

While the celebrities might not be considered outsiders, they are self-taught artists.

"The point is to show the art is a part of all of our lives -- regardless of the person's status or job," Arajs said.

The recipe for Outsiders and Others has proven so successful with hundreds lining up for each opening, Arajs and Parkhill plan to launch a traveling exhibition to reach out to communities in Greater Minnesota in several months.

The traveling exhibit will feature the gallery's permanent collection of work by self-taught artists, showcasing pieces by homeless people and prisoners, among others.

"Ideally, we will have a significant visual representation of what the self-taught community of Minnesota has to offer. This collection would be something we would like to have travel nationally to major art institutions across the United States and hopefully internationally," Arajs said.

Accessible art

"I like to think we're doing something that no one else is doing, which is bringing together extremely diverse exhibitions," Arajs said. "It is all about educating people on creativity in all of our lives everyday. Anybody, really, is a creator to some degree, whether you make the best loaf of bread in the world, or make the best paintings. It's still creative."

Parkhill echoed Arajs, crediting him with creating the vision for Outsiders and Others. "The most exciting thing about this gallery is that it gives voice to people who might not otherwise have a voice," she said.

Diane Ingram, a music publisher and a partner in EPAtelier, a coffee shop set to open nearby, frequents the gallery. "I don't know a Picasso from a Dali, or whatever. Every show is different and quite eclectic. For me, that is the interest."

The gallery shows work by more than 80 artists a year.

Amy Rice, a self-taught artist who spray paints stencils and murals, credits Outsiders and Others with "opening up a lot of avenues" for her career.

Before participating in the gallery's "Strictly Women" show in December 2003, she said she showed her work at "dingy coffee shops."

Now she has work in the Rosalux Gallery, 1011 Washington Ave. S.; and Loring Park's Jungle Red salon, spa and gallery at 1362 LaSalle Ave. S. An upcoming show is planned for the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, N.D.

Rice, an arts coordinator at Spectrum Community Mental Health in the South Minneapolis, met Arajs when he came to select artwork from her clients for a show in connection with Mental Health Awareness Month.

Arajs collects art for the gallery by selecting pieces from artist submissions, putting out calls for artists for specific shows and recruiting artists.

"I was so amazed and impressed with how he treated the people I work with. He treated them like any other artists," she said.

Besides making the gallery accessible to all types of artists, Outsiders and Others also strives to make the artwork affordable, in reach of people who can't afford to shell out thousands for a painting. Prices of exhibited work and one-of-a-kind items in the gift shop range from $5 to $1,000.

A new arts district?

Opening the gallery in Elliot Park was not an obvious choice when Arajs and Parkhill started looking for spaces.

Although Northeast Minneapolis has emerged as the city's new arts district and is where Arajs lives, they decided to launch Outsiders and Others in Elliot Park after receiving an economic stimulus $18,200 grant from Elliot Park Neighborhood, Inc. (EPNI), the neighborhood group.

Despite the grant money and vision, Arajs struggled to find a space in the neighborhood and was on the verge of giving the money back. Then the Enger building became available and, after $15,000 in renovations covered by the grant and investments, the gallery became a reality.

Since Outsiders opened in March 2003, Gallery Atitlan has opened nearby at 609 S. 10th St. EP Atelier, a coffeehouse and musical venue, is expected to open in October next door. Across the street, Skyscape, a 252-unit condo tower, is about to go up at Portland Avenue & South 10th Street.

Said Arajs, "In theory, the future is really great because there are hundreds, if not thousands of people moving into this neighborhood in the next few years."

For Arajs, opening the gallery was a natural progression from his work with Minnesota's "Visible Fringe" -- the visual arts offshoot of The Minnesota Fringe Festival, an annual, nonjuried theater extravaganza.

Besides co-founding the "Visible Fringe" series of exhibits, Outsiders and Others is also influenced by Arajs' time as curator of the Inside Out Gallery at the Interact Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, 212 3rd Ave. N., in the North Loop neighborhood.

As curator, he worked with artists with disabilities and later opened a mentorship studio for one-on-one work. He continues to work with some of the artists in a small room in the back of the gallery and features their work in Outsiders' shows.

He points to Paul Jagolino as an accomplished Interact artist whom he has mentored. Jagolino, an artist with development disabilities and a chronic seizure disorder, paints and creates snow globes with images of pop stars, such as former "Friends" stars Jennifer Aniston and Lisa Kudrow.

The snow globes go for $20 in the Outsiders and Others gift shop. Jagolino also made it into the State Fair art show with a painting of pop icon Madonna.

"One of the things that I really enjoyed there was working with artists where they were making work because that's what they loved to do," he said. "Not to say that trained artists don't do that, but there was a different energy -- a different sense of honesty. It wasn't overly analyzed and thought about. It was production for the sheer love of production."

Outsiders and Others gallery hours are noon-5 p.m., Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; and noon-7 p.m., Thursday. The "Eat This!" show will run until Oct. 16.