People’s Gallery on University in St. Paul welcomes local artists

The People’s Gallery collective, from left: Gennie Alberti, Ayanna Murata,Theresa Jarosz Alberti and Bob Alberti. (Photo by Lori Hamilton)

The People’s Gallery is ready for action.

Situated on University Avenue between Highway 280 and Raymond Avenue, the gallery features the work of local artists. Paintings, photographs, digital prints, poetry and photo-collages fill the space and flood the senses, yet the gallery is intimate and feels homey.

The welcoming vibe at 2496 W. University Ave. is an outgrowth of the energy shared among the members of Crooked River Creations, the collective that operates the gallery: photographer Bob Alberti, photographer and musician Ayanna Muata, writer and poet Theresa Jarosz Alberti and multimedia artist Gennie Alberti.

Theresa and Bob are married, Gennie is their daughter, and Ayanna quips that she’s a “long-lost cousin.” Spend five minutes with this group, and their familial connection is palpable.

A few years ago, when Bob and Ayanna first met, they began kicking around the idea of an art collective.

“We initially talked about our desires to be more creative and decided that it was time to not just talk about it, but be more proactive,” Ayanna said.

Originally from Chicago, Ayanna works as a library manager at William Mitchell College of Law.

“My kids were in college and high school,” she said, “and I was thinking, ‘What else do I need to do?’ I’d worked for nonprofits and in schools but always felt that I needed to push something out creative.”

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Bob, who spent his youth in Queens, N.Y., and outstate Minnesota, has worked for more than 30 years in information technology. He needed more artistic outlets in his life, he said.

“I was getting restless and wanted to focus more on my photography,” he said. “I’m also part of a comedy group called Vilification Tennis, so every month I perform at Bryant-Lake Bowl.”

Theresa, who grew up in Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center, has published her first book of poetry, (After) Confession, which is for sale at the People’s Gallery. The book is about family, growing up Catholic and life, she said.

Once they decided to form their collective, the first goal was to find a space.

“It had to be close enough to our respective homes [they live just across the river in Minneapolis] so we could get to it, and it needed growth potential,” said Ayanna.

Initially, they began working and having shows in a space they called B4 the Door Gallery in the back of the building, but the space is hidden from the street.

“As we came in and out of the building, we noticed the empty store front adjacent to B4,” Theresa said. They moved into that space, and now the People’s Gallery has 1,200 square feet with an entrance on University Avenue. The gallery recently closed a show called Color the Winter, an idea that Gennie conceived.

“We issued a call to artists, which was hugely successful,” Ayanna said.

In time, the group wants to have a six-week rotation of artists and is encouraging artists to contact them about future shows.

“The more people we can engage and bring into our house, the more we can have an ongoing dialogue about what impacts us as artists,” Ayanna said. “We want to know other artists, and the community at large, because we need the community to not just survive, but to thrive.”

Gennie, who recently graduated from the University of Minnesota’s art program, says the gallery is important to her as an emerging artist.

“I’m just coming into the arts community, and this is a great opportunity to meet people and keep in contact,” she said. “Also, it’s exciting to tell my friends—and fellow artists—that, if they need a space to do a poetry reading, for example, they should check us out. We have a gallery!”

When the Green Line opens in June on University Avenue, the collective is expecting an infusion of energy to the area. And they are brainstorming an upcoming show with a working title of “Love Train” To mark the launch of the new light rail.

“We’ll see even more foot traffic and are looking forward to growing,” Bob said. “We want the gallery to be a place where people come to be part of the community—a neighborhood hub. Besides art, we have hosted poetry readings, musical shows and dance events.”

Ayanna said people should come to view the art but also to engage and participate in it. “No elite art vibe going on here, and that’s why we call it the People’s Gallery,” she said. “Everyone who comes in the door is part of the People’s Gallery.”

The People’s Gallery is open by appointment (call 612-961-0507 or email //crc [at] peoplesgallery [dot] org">crc [at] peoplesgallery [dot] org) or check out their calendar at peoplesgallery.org.

They also maintain a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/peoplesgallerybyPMI. You can see Ayanna’s work at waningmoondigitalimages.zenfolio.com and Theresa’s work at penandmoon.com.