Popular Elliot Park art gallery to close

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February 19, 2007 // UPDATED 11:01 am - April 26, 2007
By: Michelle Bruch
Michelle Bruch

Outsiders and Others showcased exhibits by self-taught artists

Outsiders and Others, an Elliot Park art gallery that features the work of self-taught artists, will permanently close next month.

The gallery will end four years of operation with a closing party on March 10 from 7-10 p.m. The last show on display is called “Today’s Love Stories.”

Yuri Arajs, executive director of the gallery, said that despite a developer’s plans to redevelop the block to make way for new condos, which put a wrinkle in the gallery’s expansion plans, there are many reasons the gallery is closing.

“It’s difficult to survive doing what we do. Funding is an endless challenge,” Arajs said. “It’s just time to do the next thing.”

The gallery initially expected to move into the Hinkle-Murphy mansion on 10th Street, but the developers leased the space to a mortgage company. By all accounts, negotiations between the gallery and the developers were difficult.

“None of that matters anymore,” Arajs said. “We were supposed to move out last August. Demolition doesn’t mean anything.”

Omni Investment, the developer proposing to build two condo towers on the block in a project called 1010 Park, recently submitted to the city an application to demolish the Enger building, currently the home of Outsiders and Others. Initial plans incorporated the building into the east tower of the project, but the most recent design of the project eliminates the building.

Michael Buelow, an Omni Investment partner, said he was unaware that Outsiders and Others would soon close. He said there were several areas of the 1010 Park development the gallery could occupy in the future.

“They could easily be there a year before construction would get going,” he said. “There would be plenty of time to help them be where they want to be.”

He said the company requested a demolition permit on the advice of city staff.

“We needed to get that in the works so we would know where we stand with that property,” Buelow said.

Senior City Planner Molly McCartney said city staff are researching the historical significance of the Enger building. She said the building is not locally designated as historic and is not included on a city list of potentially historic resources. McCartney said the neighboring Hinkle-Murphy mansion is locally designated as historic, however, which could at minimum lead to an informal review by the Heritage Preservation Commission.

According to Kent Bakken, an archaeologist who has researched Elliot Park, the Enger funeral home was constructed in 1932 at a cost of nearly $70,000 (about $1 million today when adjusted for inflation). Nearly a quarter of the cost covered ornate plastic work on the building’s interior. He said the building appears to be representative of a time when architecture was used to help legitimize the funeral business and accommodate practices previously thought to be radical, such as embalming. Bakken said the building was converted to office space in 1970, according to permit records.

Elliot Park Neighborhood Inc. helped draw Outsiders and Others to the neighborhood with an $18,200 grant that covered renovations to the Enger building. The neighborhood has passed motions of support for both the relocation of the gallery within the neighborhood and the 1010 Park project that includes the elimination of the Enger building.

Arajs, who has extensive plans to continue working in the local arts community, said the most difficult part of closing is the thought that 50 percent of the artists shown at Outsiders will never show their work again.

“We’ve shown over 400 artists in four years,” Arajs said. “So many people are not appreciated for who they are.”

Beth Parkhill, Outsiders and Others board president, said the gallery’s work putting together new shows every five weeks was equivalent to a “marathon behind-the-scenes” and said the pending development project made expansion plans difficult.

“We’re a small organization, and we just don’t have the resources to keep planning what-if scenarios,” she said.

The most important shows Outsiders put together took place each May, she added, when artists with mental illnesses showcased their work together.

“We helped break down a stigma,” she said. “That’s one of the things we’re most proud of.”