Solar Arts Solar PanalsThe Twin Cities is known to have a robust and supportive community of art spaces – galleries, museums, public art, artist lofts and generally any other place where art is created and/or appreciated. For the most part, a fairly routine template for experiencing these places has been successful – art crawls, shows, events, etc. The Solar Arts building is changing the game in the world of art spaces and artist workspaces in a deliberate and careful way.

On a recent afternoon, we made the trek over to their space to meet with Owner Duane Arens and PR/Marketing Manager Michael Schardin and talk about what makes the building unique.

The beautiful old industrial space is located at 711 15th Ave. NE in Northeast Minneapolis. 100 years ago, the building served as the Twin City Cord & Tire Co. and also an early Sears’ warehouse. In that 100-year history, the building has been an entirely industrial or abandoned space until its recent genesis as The Solar Arts building. The owners have tried to retain much of the building’s history and industrial charm (despite a complete building overhaul) including saving boiler grates, brickwork and other industrial relics original to the building

During our trip, Duane and Michael had more than enough to say about what makes the Solar Arts building so intriguing and different. In particular, Duane invested in a full green remodel of the building complete with approximately 108 solar panels on the roof that produce 34,000 kWh of electricity and reduce 51,000 lbs of CO2 emissions each year. “It was the right thing to do, cost more money and took more time.”

And it hasn’t gone unnoticed, the building was proclaimed the greenest building in Minneapolis by Governor Dayton, and a model for urban renewal by Mayor RT Rybak.

The makeup of this building is threefold. The first floor is set aside for storefronts and businesses and currently boasts Indeed Brewing Company with the St. Croix Chocolate Company planning to join in the fun this year. Duane explicitly had spaces such as these in mind when rehabilitating the building. In particular, creating a space for a microbrewery seemed like a smart choice given the explosion of the MN Craft Beer scene.

The second floor is home to 16 studios and two-dozen local artists including MNO alumnae Caitlin Karolczak. The space is clean, comfortable and quiet – an artistic oasis.

Solar Arts Levy ShootThe third floor is an event space that is nearing completion. Plans for the space include: hosting private and public events, offering it up as a meeting space to local non-profits free of charge and using it as a gallery space for resident artists – even going so far as to install full gallery lighting. Design highlights of the space include the original table from the Duluth Railroad Co., authentic from the time of the building’s creation at the turn of the century, and a historic back-bar which once belonged to Johnny Cash and June Carter-Cash. The solid ornate wood piece looks well used, with coffee mug stains and spills and nicks that conjure daydreams of epic conversations of musical lore that took place over a glass of whiskey at the counter.

Overall, the Solar Arts Building might just be that rare space that has something for everyone, a balance achieved through deliberate and careful consideration of the specific needs of each tenant group and their audiences. It is an interesting model of support for the artist community in Minnesota, allowing artists (studios and gallery), everyday Twin Citians (event space) and merchants (chocolate and beer) to co-exist and support each other. Like their green roof, it’s a model of community sustainability that we can really get behind.