Art Spaces: The Solar Arts Building

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.

Art and the Environment: A Match Made in MNO Heaven

We know, we know – artists using nature as their inspiration isn’t exactly groundbreaking news. But it’s Earth Day, it’s a beautiful Spring day here in the Twin Cities, and we’re reflecting on some of our favorite MN Original artists whose love and interest for the environment has shown through in their work. From Kate Casanova’s mushroom furniture, to Steve Heitzeg’s musical eco-scores, to Gregory Euclide’s incorporation of collected trash, we think these artists are incorporating their love for nature in some truly fascinating, inspiring, and beautiful ways.

Gregory Euclide

Unconventional brushes, collected trash and a malleable canvas are tools in Painter Gregory Euclide’s work.

Kinji Akagawa

Award-winning public artist and arts educator Kinji Akagawa shares the stories behind three of his sculptural constructions.

Andrea Martin

Environmental encroachment and global warming are themes in Andrea Martin’s hand cut paper art.

Kate Casanova

Visual artist and amateur ecologist Kate Casanova unearths unique intersections between art and the natural world.

Steve Heitzeg

We catch up with Emmy-Award winning composer Steve Heitzeg at his home in St. Paul to learn the secrets of his songwriting process.

Statement from MN Original and tpt Regarding Local Hip Hop Event

We understand and are fully supportive of the decision by our friends and colleagues at MPR to postpone this production. Twin Cities Public Television (tpt) and MN Original look forward to continuing our good work with the hip hop community and Minnesota’s entire artistic community.

Dianne Steinbach
David Roth
The entire MN Original staff

MN Original is seeing green: A St. Patrick’s Day-inspired virutal episode of MNO

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Twin Cities arts fans! Irish heritage runs deep here in Saint Paul, and that tradition is reflected through the local arts community. We’ve had the pleasure of working with a number of artists who incorporate their Irish heritage into their art and creative endeavors. So with the Twin Cities’ St. Patrick’s Day Parade routed just a block from MNO headquarters at Twin Cities Public Television, we’re seeing green and celebrating with a Celtic-themed virtual episode of MNO. Enjoy!

Brian Miller and Randy Gosa, “Roll You Drivers Roll”

Folk musicians Brian Miller and Randy Gosa collaborate to bring us “Minnesota Lumberjack Songs: Irish Music from the Lumber Camps.”

O’Shea Irish Dancers

Young performers Taylor and Meghan of O’Shea Irish Dancers are headed to Glasgow Royal Concert Hall to compete in the Irish Dancing Championships. They share their love of Irish dancing, the details of their intense training, and the inside story on those wigs!

Machinery Hill, “Dirt Road”

Machinery Hill performs “Dirt Road” in tpt‘s Studio A.

Farewell Milwaukee, “When It Sinks In”

Farewell Milwaukee perform the title track off their album “When It Sinks In.”

The Guthrie Theater’s Othello Rich With MN Original Connections

Twin Cities Public Television’s pledge season rolls on (please consider supporting public television) so there will be no MN Original this Sunday night. But that gives us another excuse to dive into the MNO archives and explore the fascinating connections that arise between the many talented artists in our community. To celebrate The Guthrie‘s opening of Othello on Saturday, March 8, we present this Guthrie-themed virtual episode of MNO, which includes Marion McClinton, who directs the play, and Regina Marie Williams, who plays Emilia. After you’ve had a chance to watch this special virtual episode of MNO, make sure to get tickets to Othello, which runs through April 20.

Marion McClinton, Director

Regina Marie Williams, Performer

Joe Dowling, Artistic Director of The Guthrie Theater

Mathew LeFebvre, Costume and Set Designer at The Guthrie Theater


And stay tuned for our upcoming profile of Sun Mee Chomet, another Othello cast member, premiering online on March 28 and on tpt2 on March 30 at 6pm.

An Oscar Themed Virtual Viewing Party

It’s pledge season at TPT right now and MNO will be taking a little break while we focus our energies on this most important pursuit. Please consider supporting public television. MNO is funded by the State’s Art and Cultural Heritage Fund but viewer-supported public television enables us to share our wonderful arts community statewide on air and online.

We don’t want you to miss your weekly dose of art of all shapes and sizes, so we’ve compiled this little viewing party of film-related MNO segments, in honor of The Academy Awards. Grab some popcorn and start clicking!

Filmmaker Brady Kiernan discusses his film Stuck Between Stations, a love story set in Minneapolis.

Director Ali Selim talks about his award-winning debut feature film, Sweet Land, set in Minnesota.

Animator Tom Schroeder tells real life stories in an improvisational style influenced by jazz.

Michael Berglund is a well known and respected Paleoartist, specializing in creating realistic models of dinosaurs, both graphically and in model form.

Sarah Jean Kruchowski explores themes of disappointment and yearning in her quirky short films.

Arms and Armor handcrafts Medieval and Renaissance replicas for theaters, museums, film and television.

MNOs: Every One Unique

For every episode of MN Original we create a a title treatment that incorporates our branding with the work of one of that episode’s featured artists.

We keep an eye out for unique or interesting “Os” when we’re producing in the field and it’s always fun to see what makes the final cut.

Now that MNO is into its 5th season, we have quite the catalog of images. Flip through this Flickr gallery and see if you can identify the artist responsible!

The Okee Dokee Brothers on Friendly Competition

The latest episode of MNO included a profile of GRAMMY® Award-winning children’s band The Okee Dokee Brothers. During their interview, the duo reflected on the friendly competition that has helped propel their careers:


Joe: So our friendship is, musically, based on somewhat of a friendly competition. Wouldn’t you say?

Justin: Sure.

Joe: Where we try – in high school, for instance, I would learn an F chord. And I’d say: “Hey, you know how to play F?”

Justin: And I’d say, “No.”

Joe: “Well, I know how to play F.” So then Justin would learn F. And then he would learn B Minor. I’d have to learn B Minor too. And the same goes with songwriting. We’ve always written songs together and if I write a song I bring it to Justin and he makes it better. And then he writes a song and brings it to me. And I make it better. By our additions. Right? That’s the way it’s always gone, we’ve always been raising the bar for each other and luckily it’s been in a somewhat friendly way. And so we’re still making music together. We haven’t quit.

New Work: Liz Miller

Installation artist Liz Miller’s new work, Egregious Feng Shui, has just gone up at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan and we’re excited to share this photo, hot off the artist’s Facebook page.

Liz Miller Installation

Egregious Feng Shui challenges ideas related to order and balance with elements that are both visually pleasing and visually aggressive,” Miller explained. “Disparate materials, forms, and patterns come together to form an environment that references ornament, weaponry, and home decor, among other things. Buoyant, light-weight interludes are contrasted with denser, heavier passages. The viewer’s movement through the work is paramount to the experience. My aim was to create both harmony and discord.”

With Miller’s trademark use of color and pattern solidly on display, it’s interesting to note that this latest installation does not use any felt, a mainstay of her previous pieces. Of this shift, she shared, “I used white and green tarps like you find at Menards, bubble wrap, chevron fabric, spray painted paper, and translucent black vinyl. Aside from the paper, which has a built in rigidity, many of the materials are less inherently structural than what I normally work with.

“I had to work harder to find the structure…but it also presented an amazing opportunity for me to let the movement of some passages be a little more organic. The inclusion of more varied textures and colors is also an important part of this work. The felt works had become sort of repetitive in color pattern and weight. I could be more selective about the palette I was using here, and also consider density that appears light and airy vs. density that appears visually heavy.”

The exhibition is on view at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan through mid-March.

You can revisit the MN Original segment on Liz Miller here:

Excerpts: Andrew Moxom

Are you curious to learn more about photographer Andrew Moxom or wet plate photography now that you’ve seen his segment on MNO? Read on for excerpts from his interview.

Andrew Moxom Detail

I’m a photographer that specializes primarily in film but in the last four years I’ve actually been doing wet plate collodion, which is my main interest lately.

I first came across people practicing wet plate collodion photography at a gathering, or an event, that’s hosted in northern MI every year now. A very good photographer friend of mine started this event called Photostock, I was instantly hooked on the tactile nature of the process and the almost instant result you get. It’s not digital instant, but I look at it as a 19th-century Polaroid photograph.

It’s called wet plate collodion because you have to have a darkroom with you, or a dark space to be able to process the plate. It all that has to happen within around a 10-minute timeframe and while the plate is still wet. So from the minute you pour that plate it’s starting to evaporate and dry out. // And that changes based on heat and humidity. So in the hotter places that you’re taking photos, that time is very critical and you have to adjust the process.

The standard fixer of the day was potassium cyanide. And there was a reason it was used // it clears the image – when I say “clears it,” it washes, it fixes the image onto the plate so that it’s archival. But it’s quick and you don’t need much water to rinse the plate off afterwards and make it archival. If you were to use your standard photographic fixer that’s available now, you have to wash the plates for 40 to 50 minutes afterwards. So, if you can imagine, you were an itinerant photographer traveling around many years ago, you would not have that much water available to you. You had to have the bare minimum. So cyanide was used.

If you think about film speed, the equivalent for a collodion would be probably about ISO 1, which is pretty slow. So that means you have to shoot with a fast lens, wide open, but it’s going to be a longer exposure typically.

Back in the day, head braces were used quite a bit. And that was just because, especially in portrait studios, // an exposure could be 5 or 6 seconds and having a head brace just gives you a little bit of a reference point. Just to stop people from swaying. But people move. Even with a head brace will move or their eyes will twitch from one way to the other. // And it could even be camera. The camera could move. Or, with the studio that we’re in right now, the floors will shake sometimes. So you just have to kind of wing it and go with it. // It’s just one of those things – it’s imperfect.

I primarily use two types of cameras for my collodion photography. When I’m on the road, I use a lighter, more easily portable 8-by-10 folding camera. It’s a modern-day camera that’s still made, actually. And then for the studio sittings, I use a very old centennial stand, which is a mahogany stand, and a cast iron base, and I have a big Deardorff commercial view camera on that.

In the future I plan to take the collodion process out on the road more with the mobile dark trailer that I put together. And I’m hoping to capture a bit more of the state // whether it’s portrait or landscape, which are modern, but with a 19th century view point using an old lens. I just like having that modern equivalent of something that may have been done a hundred old years ago.

I grew up in in England, and I’ve been over here approximately 20 years now. // I was used to the rolling landscapes of England, and was shocked by the sheer vastness of the Midwest: the massive open prairie, the massive sky that you have. And then seeing the Great Lakes for the first time, those were moments that kind of burned in my memory. I just never imagined it could be this way over here.

February Educator Workshop with Ka Vang

Join us the evening of February 6 for an interactive presentation by Hmong American writer, educator and artist/activist Ka Vang.

Date: Thursday, February 6, 2014
Time: 7:00PM-9:00PM
Location: Minnesota Humanities Center
Cost: $10 (includes hors d’oeuvres and materials)
Intended Audience: K-12 Educators (though all are welcome)
Clock Hours: 2 clock hours available upon request

During the course of the evening, Vang will read selections from her work, guide the audience in creating a community poem and discuss how one can use writing as a tool for social justice. Participants will leave with  a copy of Vang’s children’s book, Shoua and the Northern Lights Dragon, a DVD of the MN Original episode in which Vang appears, a set of corresponding activity guides and a fresh way to approach folktales, storytelling and poetry in the classroom.

Space is limited, so register today!

(In case you missed it, here’s Vang’s segment:)

MNO Social

Join us on Thursday, December 5 for MNO Social!

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Here’s your chance to mingle with MN Original producers, meet some of the featured artists, and find out what’s ahead in Season 5— all while noshing on treats from Icehouse Restaurant. Dan Corrigan and Gabriel Douglas from 4onthefloor will talk about their experiences on the show. It’s free! Doors at 5pm. Programming starts at 6pm. RSVP on our Eventbrite page.