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Following the announcement that the Soap Factory will close for good, the former Gallery Director Kate Arford pens a letter to the building itself: a love letter, a breakup missive, and a reflection on the loss of the art spaces that shape not only the landscape of the cities, but ourselves.
September 27, 2019

TO: Where It May Concern

       514 2nd St SE Minneapolis, MN 55414

FROM: Me

            Outside

I’m writing to you from the other side, from the outside. An un-inhabitant, shut out of both your home and your house. It’s been a while. I’ve been avoiding you: all the emails, inquiries…avoiding select mutual friends and colleagues, events where I know your name will burp up. I find myself taking the longer route just to avoid your block. I’ve certainly been putting off this letter. Not going to lie. It’s been a hard fucking year without you.

I remember stepping into your world shortly after arriving to Minneapolis. A friend of mine from Chicago made the connection. I was intimidated at first, but quickly fell for your quirks, and as an inherent caretaker found myself at home in your brokenness and chaos. You made me feel needed, righteous for my unwavering effort to keep you afloat. I was consumed by you and the world you opened up to me. You inhabited a purpose, you lent me a wild community. I felt cool, I felt empowered, in. That feeling is addicting. But soon the need to fix you became an obsession that eclipsed every thought, conversation, and pursuit outside of us. What had been only a part of my life became my whole life. Us encompassed me. I could no longer maintain a normalcy outside of what had become totally our world.

You know those types of relationships that are wrecked to begin with? You tell yourself this is mutual, this will take work, this is worth it—the martyrdom is a labor of love. Despite everyone telling you, hey.you.look.like.shit, you’ve convinced yourself that something larger, an idiosyncratic fantasy, is of more importance than just you. That was us. Or was it just me? I was manic; those short-lived moments when things were going well, I was buzzing!—and then the crash. We would always crash. I kept up that volatile loop for over six years, harnessing that “world against us" mentality, until the decision to leave was made for me. You couldn't help but change, shut down, and that meant there was no room for me anymore. I simply had to go, there wasn't any use for me any longer. 

I heard rumors that you are a commercial space now. It is true? How does it feel to be out of the art business? I’m also working in the commercial world now. It ain’t all that bad. Our bodies can finally be taken care of because we have the privilege of steady income, personal boundaries, and sheer time. After 5, and before 9, my time is mine to meander, to dabble, to do this or that. New contexts, conversations outside the endless art (mine)field, tangible problems to solve that don’t get sucked into a conceptual vacuum. Having ridden rocky circumstances for so long, being pulled apart from it all has rendered into a rose-colored, calm existence. Did you know that I’ve been hiking? I touch the earth and no longer render it into anything else. I’ve seen landscapes that I only want to paint, just because. I can add a smiley face to that painting, not because of its reference to anything, but just because. Art can be fun, pointless, and funny again.

I do miss it. I do miss you. I miss the industrial-dirt caked sneakers I wore day in and out. The feeling of relief and pride after working endlessly to hang and project just right on your uneven walls. De-installing and re-building a two-story home in a week, moving and hanging a 30-foot electrical pole, pouring pounds of salt to cover the entirety of one of your rooms. Pounding on cement and stone, all for ideas and objects I cared a little too much for, without fully taking the time to understand their weight on the world outside, and without fully taking the time to understand the weight on me. Sure, I got burnt. I’ve convinced myself that I have made healthier choices since then, but I can’t help trying to fill something. Life without you just isn’t the same. I long to remake connections or identify myself in spaces that do not ask to be anything other than what they are. I still sometimes convince myself that we could make another go at it. Do you think it can work? With the right people, and the right time, the right intentions...What if we just moved somewhere new, got a new lease on life?

That’s where I stop, though. I can’t seem to take another leap from ideation to action. It was about this time last year when I last visited. I remember running inside to grab as much as I could salvage of a 30-year history, as much as I could fit into a compact car. Being shut off from a world you’ve dedicated so much time to is jarring, but what’s heartbreaking is not feeling you have the power and control to sustain a place, your place, our place. One important and beautifully decrepit building that housed so much without asking for anything in return. I hope this is your moment, building. I hope you make one hell of an office space. Your windows unbroken, with ne’er a pigeon stain and shinier than ever before. Your mortar intact, your roof leakless, your entire body warmed by modern heat in the winter. I’ll come visit in time.

Heartfully, your eternal administrator,

Kate

Images courtesy of Kate Arford.

Note: The Soap Factory announced on September 24, 2019 that it would cease operations after a 30-year run.

Kate Arford is a Cultural Producer, Project Manager, and Arts Professional Consultant in the Twin Cities. In 2010, she co-founded and co-directed, Peanut Gallery, a contemporary artist-centric gallery and studio space in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago, IL. After joining the Soap Factory team in 2012, she gleefully fulfilled the role of Gallery Director at one of the largest contemporary art spaces focused on emergent and experimental practices in the Midwest. There she had developed and produced exhibitions, public programs, conferences, commissions, publications, and residency programs. Since 2016, she has acted as Treasurer of the Minneapolis Art Lending Library, whose vision is to make art a part of everyday life for everyone. Kate believes in the ethos of punk and the promise of open and equal community platforms; establishing a punk-professionalism in the spirit of collaboration, relevancy, commonality, discourse, and play. 

This piece is part of a series of letters under the theme Getting Out (on the outs, and ins thereof, of art), guest edited by Moheb Soliman.

MN Artists