All My Relations, a Native art gallery on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis, saw a significant shift in its community last year.
2020 was a hard year for artists in the Twin Cities. Gov. Tim Walz issued a series of executive orders in March that closed down virtually every public space, including art galleries, and the George Floyd protests brought tension to the city of Minneapolis.
The Minnesota State Arts board worked to give grants to support artists, but as the Star Tribune reported in August, “a growing number of artists and arts leaders are calling for broader changes, saying the board has focused too much of its funding on big institutions, rather than those that are small, rural or led by artists of color.”
Angela Two Stars — the director of All My Relations Arts (AMRA), which operates the gallery — discussed how the gallery jumped in to help the city during the protests and how it is using creative solutions to help local artists. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
MinnPost: We’re coming up on a year of COVID. What’s it been like overseeing a gallery when it’s harder for people to be in person?
Angela Two Stars: Well, we closed our gallery in March. I think everybody was like, “OK, we’ll be closed for three weeks to slow the spread.” We had an exhibition that was going on and the three weeks just kept going and going and then the [George Floyd] uprising happened and we ended up having to very quickly remove the artwork and then the gallery shifted into a response site for AIM (American Indian Movement) patrol and community folks protecting the businesses on Franklin Avenue and the gallery.
The gallery parking lot kind of became ground zero for those folks. I think the general community was just looking to help. This call for donations turned into an overwhelming response where we ended up turning the gallery into a makeshift food shelf. We just responded to what was needed at the time. The community was needing a space; it was very uncertain with the safety of the streets during that time.
In terms of art, I think [we were] trying to meet the artists where they were. COVID so immediately impacted artists where they saw their entire calendar year just wiped out of their livelihood. We were trying to create opportunities for artists to get them income.
We did some general calls for a mask project, some interviews with artists, anything that we could come up with that could help sustain an artist since nobody was seeing art in person. [We’re] still trying to provide opportunities for artists during this time.
MP: Have a lot of artists taken to that?
ATS: We opened the “Bring Her Home” exhibition in October. Typically, we do a call for art and we get applications and then we jury those applications. But what I have noticed, not only with that call for art, but other opportunities we’ve posted, we are not getting the same level of responses, and this is not just our organization. I feel like there are other art directors that I’ve spoken to that are experiencing the same thing.
I’ve been getting more success by having directed opportunities. So like, I will reach out to an artist or there’ll be an opportunity and I’ll think, “Oh, this artist would be great for that,” so I would coordinate sharing the opportunity with the artists by saying, “Hey this is available. Would you be interested?” I see more artists responding better to that than those general open calls because I think artists’ priorities have just shifted so much. Responding to our calls is just not the same level of priority as distance learning or caring for families or mental health.
MP: It looks like the gallery has some really cool virtual experiences going on, including a puppet show for K-12 students. How has it been getting youth involved?
ATS: We worked with Anishinabe Academy. That was a partnership through the Hennepin County Library. It was more successful working with the schools so that they could implement it as part of their curriculum than the responses we got from just the general open call. We got a really good number of responses from that opportunity. I think we had like 24 students who submitted videos. I was very pleased with how many people took the time.
MP: How have your other virtual exhibitions been going? Has there been a good response to them?
ATS: I think there’s been a good response. The “Bring Her Home” show is available virtually. We were closed for the first two months or so. We had just opened the show and then [the new] stay-at-home orders went out and our business had to close until January 10th. It’s been about a month since we’ve been open to the public, but we had the virtual show and I feel like that’s been received very well.
I think that one of the upsides of the pandemic is that there’s more access — that people don’t have to physically be at the gallery to see the artwork. I think that’s super helpful for artists who are showing in the exhibition that can’t come personally. I feel like that’s something that we probably may continue beyond COVID.
MP: Do you think overall, while having virtual exhibitions has been really challenging, do you think it’s improved outreach?
ATS: I think it’s improved outreach because people that may not have access to the show, by transportation or location, can still view artwork. I think it’s [different from] seeing the work in person because it’s just something else to actually be in the space where the art is, versus viewing it online because the screen is the limitation of how you see an image. That’s one of the differences, but still, you get a sense of the exhibition.
One of the things that I’ve seen from artists is hesitations of creating work [since] nobody’s going to see it [in person]. One of the things about artists and sharing our work is being able to share our work and have people interact with our work and [get] lost in it, so that’s not the same online. I still think it’s valuable to be able to have in-person viewings of the exhibition, but again, for our current situation, this is the best method of accommodations.
MP: What are you hoping for the gallery for 2021?
ATS: We already have plans for the calendar year. We are planning on exhibiting Peter Williams, an artist from Alaska who will be doing a solo exhibition called “Inherent Rights.” He does fur painting, so he is talking about trapping rights of Native Americans. It’s really interesting. It’s very tactile, so hopefully that’s going to open in April.
I’m hoping that we’ll be able to be more and more out public in community with each other. I think that’s been the hardest thing is to not be able to be in community with each other as artists.
We also have a partnership with Hennepin Theatre Trust that’s creating really incredible work. We have a cohort of artists that are creating digital billboards that are displayed throughout Hennepin Avenue and then throughout the local area. We’ll probably be using their work that they’ve been creating for those billboards as an exhibition show. And then we also have a partnership with the Emerging Curators Institute. So we have one of their curators who will be curating the exhibition in our space this year. So that’s a pretty full calendar for the year. It’s optimistic.