A nonprofit art gallery with a contemporary edge, Public Functionary aims to make art a community-driven event rather than a passive experience. This fall, the gallery is working with those they know and admire in the local arts scene on some fundraising projects and exhibitions that embody this collaborative spirit. Below, Public Functionary Development Director Kate Iverson sheds some light on the origins of these new developments as well as the gallery’s mission going forward.
What is the story behind the limited-edition t-shirt line?
People have been asking about Public Functionary t-shirts ever since we offered them as an incentive during our 2012 Kickstarter campaign, which raised $30k for our initial build-out. This time around, we wanted to do a fundraiser that focused on accessible giving at smaller donation levels to support our fall exhibit season. Since t-shirts are something our audience has been asking for, it seemed like a great opportunity to collaborate on new t-shirt designs with a handful of organizations in the PF family. A portion of the donations from this campaign will go back to these independent creative groups for their efforts—it’s important to us that any success we have can have a positive, full-circle effect for us, our collaborators and our community.
Who are your collaborators and why did you choose to work with them?
My co-directors Mike Bishop and Tricia Khutoretsky and I sat down and talked about some of the strong relationships we have and boiled it down to a handful of awesome collectives: BRLSQ, Greenroom Magazine, Hotrocity, MajiMani and Anthem Heart. These are groups we’ve had longstanding friendships and partnerships with, many of which have produced events in our space. They all have amazing creative minds and brilliant design sensibilities, so asking them to design a shirt using the iconic PF logo was an easy decision—we knew they’d all bring something awesome to the table.
How does the t-shirt line contribute to Public Functionary’s philosophies of “functional philanthropy” and community collaboration?
The collaborative community aspect of the project speaks for itself: five independent, local organizations working with us to create a fundraiser that’s a perfect example of what support can look like with a little bit of creativity and openness. We’re introducing them to new networks and vice versa; they’re supporting us through creating custom PF t-shirt designs and we’re supporting them back by donating $5 from each t-shirt sold to their organizations. It’s a trickle down effect that not only brings financial support to a number of creatively focused organizations in our community, but potentially introduces people to groups they weren’t aware of previously through the promotion of the campaign. It’s a win-win-win.
The concept behind “functional philanthropy” is our way of bringing an entrepreneurial spin to the concept of fundraising and support. The t-shirt campaign is just one angle. We believe in building relationships that have substance—and not just from a philanthropic standpoint, but a personal and creative standpoint. When we discuss sponsorship with companies or individuals, we approach it from a partnership perspective. How can we create a valuable experience for them that is more than just a logo on the title wall? Sometimes it’s through the use of our space for a special event or company meeting, sometimes it’s brand or art consulting, sometimes it’s something completely outside the lines that we figure out along the way. Often, companies can pull from meeting/event or marketing budgets as opposed to community giving budgets (which can be tight) to partner with Public Functionary. It opens up a whole spectrum of opportunities that aren’t typical under traditional nonprofit constructs.
How did your collaboration with photographer Kevin O’Meara come about?
Public Functionary brings a bit of a radical approach when it comes to art and modern gallery practices. We’re not afraid to blend highbrow and lowbrow and we strive to be approachable and real. Asking Kevin to do this shoot was pretty much the perfect fit, as he embodies a lot of those qualities. When Tricia, Mike and I discussed creating a look book for the t-shirt campaign, we really wanted bring the energy of Public Functionary to the forefront as opposed to trying to manufacture a sleek fashion shoot. Kevin’s style is very contemporary and visceral. He’s amazing at capturing moments, whether they [are] good, bad or awkward, but he also brings a lot of humor to his work. He was definitely our first choice, as his work resonates with our unfiltered approach to the development of our space as well.
I personally fell in love with Kevin’s work after meeting him during Art-A-Whirl a couple years ago. One of my favorite pieces in my art collection is the photo I got from him that day. I’ve always kept tabs on him and tried to support what he’s doing. He’s got true talent and a lot of ambition. It took a bit of convincing to get him to do it because he is very serious about maintaining the integrity of his work, which is something we respect, but in the end we hooked him with “you can do whatever you want.” The pictures are awesome and we’ve got even more that we’ll be filtering out on social media as the campaign progresses.
It was recently announced that Public Functionary is planning an expansion. What are some of your goals with that project?
We’ll be expanding our footprint in our current space soon. The exhibition space will remain the same but we will have additional room for community use, workshops, artist residencies, event rentals, meetings, planning sessions and more. It’s an exciting opportunity to create more of a multi-use art center feel to our organization, offer more accessibility to other creative producers and groups who want to work with us, and at the same time, be able to create additional programming and open space that can benefit both the creative and business communities. Touching back on the concept of functional philanthropy, having more space will allow us to implement new ways of entrepreneurially funding our exhibits and programming without having to rely as heavily on grants.
Tell me about Public Functionary’s fall exhibitions. What’s in store the rest of this year?
We’ve got a great roster of artists this fall. The first of three back-to-back exhibits is Michael Thomsen, a Minneapolis-based sculptor who is creating large-scale assemblage works that have a baroque meets pop art twist. His show, which opens Oct. 3, is themed around secret societies, ancient stories and myths. It’s extremely fascinating content and the work has an ornately beautiful dark edge, perfect for an October show. In November, we have San Francisco painter Aaron De La Cruz, an artist our curator has been building a relationship with for the past couple of years. Aaron will fill the gallery floor to ceiling with his iconic gestural design/street art-influenced work. Our December show is Minnesota artist Liza Sylvestre, who creates beautifully languid works that combine fine lines and dreamy colorscapes. In addition to the show openings, there will be many events happening in the space during each exhibit. Follow Public Functionary on social media to keep up with our events and news.