Franklin Avenue gets new art gallery


All My Relations Art (AMRA), the arts program once housed in the Ancient Traders Gallery, will have a new gallery at 1416 Franklin Ave. E. – only blocks away from its old home, where it opened a decade ago. AMRA will go into the former Open Arms of Minnesota space. 

The building was purchased by a new Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) formed by AMRA’s new parent organization, the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI) and The American Indian Community Development Corporation (AICDC), who will also be housed in the building. 

Ancient Traders Gallery was established in 1999 by the American Indian Business Development Corporation (AIBDC). In 2008, AIBDC changed its name to Great Neighborhoods Development Corporation (GNDC), and began shifting focus away from American Indian initiatives.

In light of GNDC’s move away from Native projects, AMRA was accepted to ArtsLab, a three year learning and technical assistance granting program, with the understanding that AMRA would seek a new parent organization. Last fall, GNDC’s Executive Director Theresa Carr informed AMRA that the time had come to leave. “We’re tightening our belts, and cutting back on staff,” Carr said in an interview last February. 

Ancient Traders Gallery closed early this year, following the run of AMRA’s last exhibit called Hokah! Ten Years of Art at Ancient Traders Gallery.

There was some trepidation from artists and fans of the gallery about what was to become AMRA following the closing.  

Good news came for AMRA when in February it became an official initiative of NACDI, an organization focused on community development. The transition made sense for NADCI because the gallery fits its goal to develop Franklin Avenue as an Indian-focused cultural destination corridor.

NACDI has been striving to develop what it calls The American Indian Cultural and Economic Corridor, starting at Cedar Avenue and stretching down to 11th Avenue. The cultural corridor is a key part of NACDI’s mission to build alliances among American Indian businesses and organizations and improve the economic and cultural vitality of neigborhood.

“Deep down we’re a community building organization,” said Justin Huenemann (Navajo), Executive Director of NACDI. “The arts are a part of that.”

Once AMRA became a part of NACDI, the organization needed to find space to house AMRA’s gallery and programming activities. Heid E. Erdrich (Ojibwe), who has served as AMRA’s curator since 2008, said it was important for AMRA to stay on Franklin Avenue to serve the neighborhood’s American Indian community and  Native artists. 

In the last few months, NACDI has been in talks with the American Indian Community Development Corporation (AICDC) about a possible partnership.   (NACDI rents office space from AICDC.) Since 2008, AICDC had been in the process of purchasing the former Open Arms of Minnesota building.   Michael Goze (Ho-Chunk), Executive Director of AICDC, said that when NACDI  approached him about a possible partnership, he realized that the two organizations would create a stronger force that each single organization.

“We want to show the community that partnerships do exist in the larger community, and can exist in the Native community,” Goze said. 

In April, NACDI and AICDC formed a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC).  Huenemann said that NACDI’s partnership with AICDC in the purchase of a building was unusual in the American Indian community.

“That really hasn’t been done in this community,” he said. “We tend to be pretty turf oriented.” The advantage of forming an LLC, he said, is that it protects the assets of each of the two organizations. 

In order for NACDI to secure loans to purchase its share of the building as part of the LLC with AICDC, it needed to prove to lenders that it would be able to secure a tenant, Huenemann said.  NACDI, along with its initiative AMRA, would be the tenant to the LLC  that NACDI partially owned.  “Essentially NACDI will rent from its own LLC,” he said.

In order to raise the money, NACDI launched a Friend Raiser for Arts on the Avenue, using the help of a facilitator from ArtsLab. In about a month, NACDI raised $8,600 from 70 individual donors. In addition, The McKnight Foundation donated $75,000 toward the project, and The Minneapolis Foundation contributed another $10,000.

AMRA Curator Erdrich said, “[People] didn’t want to lose the programming, and they were excited about a gallery space right on the avenue.”

Vicki Benson, Arts Programming Director for The McKnight Foundation, said that AMRA is an important gallery for Native American artists and for the Twin Cities as a whole. It will draw attention to the Native Artists on the Avenue, which she said is “long overdue.”

Benson said she was particularly excited because the timing follows on the heels of a McKnight funded study through the Humphrey Institute. The findings of that study were published last December in the article Native Artists: Livelihoods, Resources, Space, Gifts. Written by Marcie Rendon and Ann Markusen. The study found that Ojibwe artists had fewer resources such as gallery space, funding, and employment than artists from the general population.

With enough money raised to secure the lease, NACDI was able proceed with the purchase of the Open Arms building with AICDC. NACDI received a loan from Woodlands Natonal Bank and a PRI from the Indian Land Tenure Foundation. Huenemann said that all of the loans that went to purchasing the Open Arms building came from American Indian sources. The building had an appraisal cost of $360,000, not including close-out and build-out costs.  

AMRA’s inaugural exhibit, set to open at the end of 2010 or beginning of 2011, will be a remount of Original Green, which premiered at the Mill City Museum on May 20 and runs through Nov. 21.

Erdrich said that other future exhibits will include the show This is Displacement, curated by board members Emily Johnson and Carolyn Lee Anderson, which has been traveling across the country. Erdrich also hopes to soon present the work of Frank Big Bear, an award winning artist known for his dreamlike brightly colored drawings. The gallery will also continue to host media screenings, spoken word events, mentorship programs and is planning an American Indian Cultural Corridor Festival with traditional and contemporary artists.

Ultimately, gallery supporters say, the move is a win for the local Native community. “It’s an exciting new beginning for Native American fine art,” said Douglas K. Limon (Ojibwe), an AMRA advisory board member and artist. 

Robert Two Bulls, another AMRA advisory board member and artist, added, “It’s a great time for the arts on Franklin, and for Indian arts in general in the midwest.”