Intermedia Arts fights for its life

For 35 years, Intermedia Arts, near the corner of Lake Street and Lyndale Avenue, has managed to stay atop the urban arts scene, from hosting the art car parade to bands at the Lyn-Lake Street Fair to the undeniably empowering B-Girl Be showcase of women in hip-hop. The frequent updating of its colorful facade with new graffiti art was a way of marking time in my neighborhood, and I often wondered how thick the paint must be at this point.

And yet it’s now scrambling to keep the doors open, much less the paint cans in stock, laying off staff and closing its gallery. On Friday, December 17, it will hold a public meeting to discuss the situation, rally around the place and hopefully generate some ideas and cash. You can see details and RSVP here.

On the one hand, it’s unfortunately not surprising that yet another midsize arts organization is feeling the economic pinch. And yet it’s ironic that Intermedia survived most of its life in a neighborhood that remained Lower East Side blowsy, even as Uptown proper prospered, until recently. Now that condos, luxury apartments and new restaurants are filling in the spaces around it, the place can’t survive. Few of the recent arts org crashes have borne common wounds, other than a general lack of funds. And yet it’s difficult to believe that a hollowing out of the center of the arts scene (tiny orgs operating on little cash to begin with, and major orgs more capable of weathering the storm) isn’t symptomatic of something beyond donors’ thin wallets.

An examination of the granting mechanisms that may be leaving these veteran orgs in the cold is in order. And what are to think about the fact that nearly all of the previously thriving institutions to collapse, from Intermedia to Jeune Lune to the Minnesota Center for Photography even to the Minnesota Museum of American Art of late, were also riding a cutting edge of sorts? It’s not, in other words, the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres that’s hurting. It’s a question of taste: Have Twin Cities audiences retreated from the challenging? Why? And why here? Have we changed? And what does that suggest for our future? Or, have these orgs simply been lucky to survive as long as they did–is it simply unsustainable to push the envelope for three decades at a highly funded level?

Admittedly, Intermedia is hard to figure from the outside; depending on who you are, its facade is either incredibly inviting or staking a rather narrow audience–it’s always been difficult to realize exactly what was going on in there. It was years before I realized there was a gallery inside, or that I could drop in anytime to see it. From the outside, it felt like you had to be on the inside, which, of course, wasn’t the case at all–once inside, it couldn’t have been more welcoming and always inspired lingering. It was a place I went, though, because I knew someone performing, which is never a very sustainable model. Here’s hoping that a whole lot of input from the outside finds its way inside on Friday; it’s a formula that may have saved Jeune Lune.