Humor and the Abject

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Q & A with Sadie Halie Projects of Minneapolis, MN

A while back, artnet News published a list I put together called "5 Worthy Artist-Run Spaces That Have Learned to Thrive Outside of Art Market Capitals." As I've mentioned previously in both a Q & A with Good Weather from North Little Rock, AR and a Q & A with S1 from Portland, OR, I did pretty extensive interviews with the folks running the various spaces for that piece. We talked about their missions, how they pay the bills, and program highlights that keep them energized. For the artnet piece, I had to massively edit down their thoughtful and generous responses, but each space told me that they were down with me putting up the full conversation at a later date on the Humor and the Abject blog. I've been rolling them out all fall. 

Here is the full conversation I had with Jennie Ekstrand and Patrick Gantert, co-founders of Sadie Halie Projects, a garage gallery in Minneapolis, MN that lived a previous life as a garage gallery in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.  Their current exhibition is "Everything All at Once" by New York-based artist Leah Guadagnoli

New York-based artist Sonia Louise Davis performing at her exhibition "a score to keep time / a score to lose time / but never yourself, in it" (2017) at Sadie Halie Projects, Minneapolis, MN, curated by Carlos Rosales-Silva

When did you open? Have you existed in more than one location?

Technically we opened in 2012. Our first show was Darren Tesar in the living room of our apartment in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. We soon took over the garage of our building and converted it into a studio/gallery space--50% very grungy garage and 50% white-walled. We ran Sadie Halie out of our Brooklyn garage space for roughly three-and-a-half or four years, with somewhat intermittent programming. Winters especially were (and still are) basically impossible. We relocated to Minneapolis at the end of 2015, so this is our third location. By complete chance we are once again running the space out of our garage. There are tons of alleys in the Midwest and almost everyone has a garage that is in a state of near-collapse. We got lucky and rented a place with a garage in decent shape, so with the help of a few friends we were able to properly build it out, install a lighting system, and start shows in June of 2016.

Installation view of Kristen Sanders's "Soft Origin" (2017) at Sadie Halie Projects, Minneapolis, MN

Who were the founders, and who is currently running the space?

We, Jennie Ekstrand and Patrick Gantert, are the co-founders and we still run the space. Nicole Killian does all of our design work and should really be considered a third member of Sadie Halie at this point.

What were the original motivations for the opening of the space? Has your mission changed?

Like a lot of artist-run spaces, our motivations were pretty simple: We had a lot of friends making work that we liked but who weren’t getting shows. We had been organizing shows for three or four years prior to Sadie Halie in various forms so we wanted to make a space where we could offer some visibility to the people whose work we liked.

Our mission has remained more or less the same, we want to provide a platform for artists that we like who are generally getting less exposure. We also try to encourage the people we work with to try things out in the space and not feel limited. If someone has a bigger idea for an installation or or alteration to the space, we do our best to help make that stuff real.

Audience outside of "Yes, I Can't!" (2017) by Katelyn Farstad, Sheryl Oppenheim, and Sophia Deutsch

What are the pros and cons of operating an art space in your city?

A huge pro in Minneapolis is that the community here has been incredibly supportive from the minute that we opened. Spaces like Midway, Yeah Maybe, Hair + Nails and The White Page reached out right away and have been amazing resources for us. There is also money here! We were a recipient of the Visual Arts Fund grant for 2016/17. The VAF is a grant via the Andy Warhol Foundation that is routed through Midway Contemporary Art. Because of it, we’ve been fortunate enough to pay the artists that we work with and offset the unforeseen costs associated with running a space.

If there is a con, it's probably visibility. Minneapolis is a great city in general and a really great city for art and culture. That said, the art scene tends to be a bit regional. Something we’re trying to do here is create a dialogue between artists working here--of which there are many great ones--and artists from other cities/countries. It also is very cold in the winter which limits our season.

Installation view of Brittany Nelson's "monuments to the conquerors of space" (2016) at Sadie Halie Projects, Minneapolis, MN

Can you describe, however specifically you’d like to, the economics of your space? 

As mentioned, we have a grant for this season that helps to offset some of our costs. That said, we budgeted a big chunk of that money as stipends and travel budgets for the artists that we are working with this season. Historically, we have run completely out-of-pocket. We do not have any staff but Nicole Killian does all of our design out of the kindness of her heart and has been an integral part of everything that we have done. Our current space is attached to our house so it is included in our rent which, if you parse out by square footage, is super cheap compared to New York or LA. We definitely do not think of ourselves as a commercial space, and in the few instances where we have sold work, we have not taken a percentage. Moving forward though if we end up selling something, our split is flexible but usually hovers in the 70/30 range--70% to the artist, obviously.

Installation view of Darren Tesar’s "bar-mouthing" (2016) at Sadie Halie Projects, Minneapolis, MN

Have you participated in, or are you considering participating in, international art fairs? Any thoughts on doing this in general?  

The short answer to this is that yes, we’ve considered it but ultimately decided it wasn’t for us right now. We enjoy running independently and while that isn’t necessarily the most lucrative approach, it allows us the flexibility to do what we want without the stress of whether or not we will be able to cover the costs of an expensive closet-sized booth at an art fair. We are all for the younger fairs that are popping up and trying to create some kind of space that is both financially and practically feasible for artist-run and DIY spaces, but we aren’t at a point where it makes sense for us--and frankly we aren’t that interested.

Installation view of Martha Mysko’s "War of the Roses" (2015) at Sadie Halie Projects, earlier Brooklyn, NY location

Does your space run programs, events, or exhibitions with intentional outreach to your local community?

Being in Minneapolis has definitely made us consider our community and our role in it differently. The community here is different from New York; it's more inclusive and seems to be genuinely more engaged with looking and interpreting. Our plan in starting the space back up in Minneapolis was to try and fill what we perceived to be a gap in available programming in the city. Namely, somewhere smaller where the community here could see and be placed into dialogue with younger artists from other cities and countries. To date, most of our out-of-town artists have been from New York but that will change in 2018. We don’t do any outreach, so to speak, beyond our usual programming. However, we feel that our programming alone constitutes a form of outreach in that we are trying to bring something to the city that didn’t really exist.

Installation view of Willie Wayne Smith’s "Consider My Tongue Swallowed" (2015) at Sadie Halie Projects, earlier Brooklyn, NY location

Are there specific exhibitions or projects that you’ve done at your space that you reflect on and think, “That’s when we nailed what it is that we’re trying to do”?

Yes definitely--so many. At the risk of sounding cheesy, we feel that way more often than not. One show that sticks out is Willie Wayne Smith’s "Consider My Tongue Swallowed" from 2015. We really believe in Willie’s work and the way he engaged with our space in Brooklyn was so spot-on. Rather than treating it like gallery burdened by a garage, he saw a garage that happened to have white walls. The work was so smart and responsive to the space; it felt like he understood what we were doing and vice versa. That kind of relationship is the result of lots of studio visits and a lot of hanging out. Willie is the best!

Another is  "No More Ideas About My Ideas" from 2016 featuring Carlos Rosales-Silva, Jeff Eaton, and Alyse Ronayne. We were trying to represent a frustration that we felt--and that we had heard from a lot of artists--basically being crippled by over-thought, or too much placed into an idea. For this show, we shared some of the creative workload with the artists we worked with by helping them to source and build pieces and suss out where the common threads lied in the work. More than that though, it was a show motivated by the things we were hearing from our peers so it was nice to be able to articulate that idea using their work and maybe excise a bit of the frustration.    

Installation view of "No More Ideas About My Ideas" (2016) featuring Carlos Rosales-Silva, Jeff Eaton, and Alyse Ronayne at Sadie Halie Projects, Minneapolis, MN

Additionally, are there other exhibitions or projects that you’ve produced that felt like major transitional points for the artist(s)?

We can’t really speak for our artists and what they may or may not have felt after a show but a few that felt big for us were Sophia Flood’s "POOLS" in 2014, Martha Mysko’s amazing 2015 installation "War of the Roses," and Darren Tesar’s 2016 exhibition "bar-mouthing." There are so many. We feel different things about every show but those are some that stick out for us.

Installation view of Sophia Flood’s "POOLS" (2014) at Sadie Halie Projects, earlier Brooklyn, NY location

What, in your personal opinion, constitutes success for your space?

Paying artists is important, but sales are not. We’re pretty easy, we feel good about being in Minneapolis and having a nice, bright, ‘clean’ new space. Success for us is showing artists whose work we believe in deeply and having people come to those shows and feel something or respond to it. We also feel good that we’re celebrating five years of existing this year. It is staggering to think back on all of the shows, studio visits, people we’ve met, etc, because of this very simple project. When the people we work with meet someone new or get a new opportunity because of a show, that is success to us.