Protecting Good People from Bad Art

When in my early twenties, I escaped the “mundane and uncultured” Midwest and found a temporary mecca in exotic 1970 San Francisco:  the ethnic restaurants, funky bars, antique shops, art museums, concert halls, and the art fairs (which I’d never seen before). After a couple of years in the crowded city, I opted for Half Moon Bay environs –  45 minutes south of S.F. on the Pacific Coast – a town of (then) 5,000 souls,.

There were the schools, a library, a “general store”called Half Moon Bay Feed & Fuel, a bookstore, a few restaurants. Forclassical music, there was the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society at the Mirimar Beach Inn. But the center of the art world at the time was the fall Half Moon Art & Pumpkin Fest, where I bought my first local art – a soft leather-bound journal, and a wonderful pottery bowl in my favorite shape.

My next two locales were Brooklyn, NY, and Minneapolis, so of course there were plenty of opportunities to find art (and art fairs). Now that we’re in Winona, MN, I’m aware that I never really needed to leave Small Town Midwest to find art – or maybe it “grew up” while I was not looking. This town, and many other surrounding ones (Lanesboro for one), have much to offer culturally.The ads in my Big River Magazine reveal that every little town along the Mississippi has some kind of art gallery or art center, wonderful sounding restaurants and cafés, community theaters, independent bookstores, charming B&Bs, wine bars, and often a natural foods market.

When we were on our road trip Southeast in September, we traveled some back roads for a break from the freeways. I love traveling through the small towns, and I found the same kind of variety of cultural opportunity. One example would be the in historic downtown Paducah, KY – Paducah Area Painters Alliance Gallery – whose byline is “Protecting good people from bad art.”

Do you have a neighborhood or small-town art center nearby?

Where is your favorite place to view the visual arts?

35 thoughts on “Protecting Good People from Bad Art”

  1. Winnipeg is an important visual art center in Canada. I am not quite sure why that is. Thete is a lovely art museum there.

    Out here we have potters. I guess there is good clay.

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  2. Husband says that there is so much visual deprivation because of the vast expanses of very flat prairie around Winnipeg that people compensate by making their own visual beauty. The Winnipeg Art Gallery has a wonderful collection of Inuit art as well. The WAG is Canada’s oldest civic art gallery.

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  3. Here in O-town, we have the Owatonna Arts Center. It’s a small place but nicely curated. Features a lot of relics and displays from the old orphanage that was here until the mid-20th Century. Lots of new displays, featured artists, concerts, classes. It’s an important cultural oasis down here on the edge of the southern prairie.

    I rather enjoyed looking at art in the Art Institute of Chicago when we lived in Chicagoland. Had a classic old-school museum feel. The Nelson(?) art museum in Kansas City was surprisingly cool. A bit more modern in design and feel. I’m not a big museum goer, but I always enjoyed the Walker and MIA when we lived in the Cities. Museums are such restful, contemplative spaces. More people should use them as places to unplug from the world for an hour or two.

    Chris in Owatonna

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    1. The tiny town of Port Wing (Wisconsin) has two former churches that have been repurposed. One (I think) is a private residence and the other is an art center. Although I’m not religious, it saddens me sometimes to see old churches that have lost their original mission. I should probably be happy some are now promoting original art.

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      1. There is a former church building in Grand Marais that for a while housed the community theater. Now Betsy Bowen, a fine woodcut artist, uses the building for her gallery and studio. A grand use for the building, in my opinion.

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        1. The summer I lived in Grand Marais, I worked for the theater that used to be in that church building. It was certainly educational working there. While it’s not unusual to have very limited time and money, the ability to borrow stuff was also limited (we managed to convince the owner of Sven and Ole’s pizza to loan us a roll-top desk they had in the restaurant for 3 weeks…I think they had to replace it with a couple of folding tables while we had it on stage). And working around the structure of the old sanctuary and its pillars/supports was, um, an interesting challenge.

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  4. Minnesota leads the nation in arts funding, which is a major reason so many outstate towns have arts centers and a lively existence. A lot of that is apparently due to passing what is called the Legacy Amendment about a decade ago. That has created a reliable source of funding that can support all kinds of arts organizations in small towns all over the state.

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  5. I live a mile or so from MIA, well maybe it’s slightly more than that now that they tore down the pedestrian bridge going over 35W (boo). I don’t take advantage of its closeness very often; I don’t know why.

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      1. It’s all part of the wonderful, multi-year construction of 35W. First they closed the Franklin Ave. Bridge; then they closed the 26th Street Bridge and the 24th Street pedestrian bridge (tore down might be more accurate). Now they’ve closed the 28th Street bridge, but at least the Franklin Ave. and 26th Street bridges are now open and were closed for only several months. The pedestrian bridge will be closed for at least 3 years.

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  6. We are, indeed, blessed with access to lots of arts in the Twin Cities and the surrounding communities. I’m especially fond of the MIA. When I was first divorced in 1974, I was a member, and it was a wonderful place to hang out. To this day, it feels like a refuge to me. At that time I also loved the Walker, which has a great collection of contemporary work. Unfortunately, after they tore down the old Guthrie Theater, and expanded the Walker, I can’t make head nor tails of that building. I still do love their sculpture garden, though.

    We have several small galleries in St. Paul that I like to visit if I’m in search of a gift for someone. The Grand Hill and Grand Hand galleries are both wonderful, and so is Artista Bottega on W. 7th Street. During spring and fall, I love to go on the St. Croix Pottery tour. It’s nice to see not only the work of the various potters, but also to see the spaces where they work and live.

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  7. There are a few coffee shops around town that hang interesting work – Studio 2 on 46th street (near me) often has something funky on the walls, some of it more appealing than others. Until about a year ago there was a nifty little shop on Lyndale Ave near 28th street that had a mix of fair trade goods and local artists’ work – I always came out of there with something in tow. I miss that little shop. A drive down Lake Street can be good for mural viewing…

    And yeah, living in Minneapolis, I am spoiled by having the MIA close by. I find MIA more appealing than the Walker – it just seems a more inviting space to sit, wander, take your time. The Walker always feels a little stark to me – I like a lot of their collection, but not enough to visit as often as I go to the MIA.

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    1. Do you own it, Renee? I have a small collection of Inuit soapstone carvings, and another of Inuit carvings in walrus tusks. I cherish them, but they mean absolutely nothing to most people. Having spent nine months in Greenland, I got a small peek into that unique people and culture, and so I treasure some of the history and beliefs surrounding these objects.

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      1. No, it is part of the collection at the Winnipeg Art gallery. I was too poor a graduate student to purchase any Inuit art when we lived there. how nice for you that you could get some in Greenland.

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  8. I have a membership at the Jewish Community Center in St. Paul. I like to see what goes up on the walls there. They have two Chagall paintings, but a lot of the art and photography is of more recent origin, and the offerings change often.

    The JCC remodeled recently to include a new cultural arts wing, and they’re devoting more space to the arts.

    I got the membership there partly because they have a fitness center, and I could get a membership through my health insurance. It was a no-brainer to use the benefit for the JCC. I don’t know of any Lifetime or Planet or Snap Fitness facilities that have Chagalls on the walls.

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        1. The first field trip was see the tapestries of Helena Hernmarck, and the second was papercuts of the Danish artists Karen Bit Vejle. Both unique and well curated exhibits. As is true with many other exhibits at ASI, I saw each of them several times. First I go to see them myself, and then I go back and bring friends, and to have lunch at FIKA.

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