I’ve had a studio around the corner from the ICEBOX Gallery at the Northrup King Building for nearly eight years now. And like most artists in Northeast Minneapolis, indeed in the entire Twin Cities, I’ve looked at Howard Christopherson’s framing business and photography gallery as a landmark, a rock, a pioneer, actually. The rest of us were kids playing around; Christopherson had been doing this since the salad days (if you didn’t mind a cold-water tap and maybe a roach in your salad) of the downtown scene in the 1980s, when guys like him and Scott Seekins were squatting in the old abandoned warehouses. Christopherson was among the first of the downtown artists to shift base camp, to the crumbling factories of Northeast. He stuck it out, years before Art-A-Whirl and the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District. Now it’s the Twin Cities that seem to have abandoned Christopherson.
Last night, I found Christopherson putting up his final gallery show, of the Madison, Wisconsin, photographer Keith Dotson, whose focus on some of the more astonishing trees to be found in our landscape finds visual poetry in their twists and turns. It’s the kind of show that a few years ago would have drawn reasonable crowds to the place. With a few notable exceptions, such as photography fan Martin Weinstein’s eponymous gallery, ICEBOX is one of the few places to see and purchase photography exclusively in the Twin Cities. But plenty has changed in the last couple of years, Christopherson says, and not in his favor.
The media, shorthanded and consolidating operations, has downsized its arts coverage, particularly on the visual arts — City Pages cut its listing of art openings a while back. And while Art-A-Whirl continues to draw big crowds, the Northrup King Building has struggled to keep its First Thursdays afloat and the expansion of the Northeast scene has spread the crowds thinner, just as the St. Paul Art Crawl has possibly shot itself in the foot by continuing to absorb artists well beyond Lowertown. And then, of course, there’s simply the growth of the arts scene in general, and the search, as happens in a fluid, healthy scene, always for the next big thing. What do you do, then, when you do pretty much what you’ve always done?
In other notes from disparate parts of the arts landscape, the Cedar Cultural Center is spreading the word that the amazing Tuva throat singers of Tyva Kyzy, scheduled to play on Sunday, have canceled their performance and indeed the rest of their U.S. tour. A bad case of laryngitis? In any case, the Cedar is at a crossroads of its own, caught in the foundation downsizing of support to midsize nonprofits even as it’s become one of the most exciting venues in town, leavening its folk and world-music reputation with an exciting dose of indie-rock, jazz, and other genres from the best in their fields, which you can read about here.