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Maggie Ryan Sandford continues her neighborhood-by-neighborhood guide to coffee house galleries and various and sundry other alternative art exhibition spaces in MN with this artists' guide to venues in St. Paul's Lowertown/Downtown area.
September 30, 2010

This cafe is a favorite haunt for artists living in the nearby lofts, and a notable exhibition venue for local artists. (Photo courtesy of the Black Dog Cafe)

WHEN ARTISTS DREAM OF SUCCESS, they probably dream of showing at the Walker, the Met, the Tate, Musée National d'Art Moderne -- not the java joint down the street. But on the road to the big-time, those little coffeehouse shows can be important stops along the way, providing a safe platform for artists to practice the tricks of their trade: how to produce enough work for a show, create a cohesive collection, price pieces, place them in the space, promote, and (most importantly) find an audience.

To help local artists navigate this process, we decided to create a directory of sorts: a guide to the best of the many Twin Cities coffee shops, cafes, bars, even salons that double as gallery spaces. We will explore the Minnesota "Coffee House Art Scene" on an ongoing basis, one neighborhood at a time. For the first installment in this series, we covered the alternative art venues in the Stevens Square/Whittier neighborhood.

For this installment: Downtown/Lowertown, St. Paul

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BLACK DOG CAFE - 308 Prince Street, 651-228-9274

The ambiance: With delicious homemade grub and jazz piped through the speakers, this cool, casual, cozy cafe is a favorite hangout for St. Paul artists.

The art: Monthly shows are curated according to a theme, but otherwise vary widely in medium and subject matter. This month's theme: artists who appear in the most recent issue of the St. Paul Almanac, including photographs by students at Gordon Parks High School, watercolors by Lara Hanson from the Black Dog's Lowertown Reading Jams, ink drawings and paintings of local landmarks by Claudia Stack, and the comics-like ink drawings of Andy Singer.

The stats:

Consistency of quality: ***** (out of 5)

Funky Factor: ***

Classy Factor: ***1/2

Do they take a commission from sales? Yes, 20%

Who hangs the work? Just ask if you'd like to have a say -- they know what they're doing.

Can you put nails in the walls? Yes

Contact: Check out their submission page to check out photos of the gallery space, and download a submission form. Work should fit upcoming themes; each exhibition is juried by a small group of staff.

Hours: Monday-Thursday: 7am-10pm, Friday: 7am-11pm, Saturday: 7am-9pm, Sunday: 8am-8pm

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GOLDEN'S DELI - 275 E 4th St., 651-224-8888

The ambiance: A big, open converted-warehouse dining room with a grassroots community feel; colorful walls, cool staff, and stick-to-your-ribs, local food served with a little-to-no-waste promise.

The art: The deli serves as a gallery space in the St. Paul art crawl every year, so they know their stuff -- displayed works tend to be engaging and professional, but staffers claim not to be picky. They ask only that submissions be family friendly and ample enough to fill the space. Currently showing: Rhea Pappas's large-scale photographs of ladies underwater.

The stats:

Consistency of quality: ****1/2 (out of 5)

Funky Factor: ***1/2

Classy Factor: ***

Do they take a commission? No

Who hangs the work? The artists, with help from staff

Can you put nails in the walls? Some nails are already in place, but railing hanging is preferred

Contact: The manager, Pete, at the store number, before 2pm

Hours: Monday-Friday: 7am - 8pm, Saturday & Sunday: 7am - 3pm

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TEA GARDEN 101 E 5th St., 651-493-8943

The ambiance: A corporate teashop in US Bank building's skyway. The audience here consists primarily of business people on their coffee breaks -- but these may well be precisely the folks who have money to spend on art!

The art: The newish store is still finding its style, which thus far leans toward display of accessible, energetic work, like the textured multimedia work of Lois Peterson and the colorful, active photography of Paal Carter.

The stats:

Consistency of quality: *** (out of 5) - so far, anyway...

Funky Factor: *

Classy Factor: ***

Do they take a commission? Prices not listed; interested buyers must directly contact the artist, and the venue typically doesn't take a commission of sales.

Who hangs the work? Staff works with exhibiting artists to hang work. (Installation policies vary somewhat by store.)

Can you put nails in the walls? Some screws provided; staff members are willing to accommodate other needs.

Contact: Manager Ri Traviski, at the store number. She discusses each exhibition prospect with higher-ups to make sure pieces suit the environment of the store.

 Hours: Monday-Friday, 7am-4:30pm, closed Saturday & Sunday

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GREAT WATERS BREWING COMPANY - 426 St. Peter, 651-224-2739

The ambiance: Your classic downtown brewpub and home-cookin' restaurant: simple, classic, and maybe just a little bland.

The art: On view now: fancily-framed, impeccably-drawn images of downtown landmarks by William Hosko. This artwork is about as traditional as it gets, and sources say that's par for the course in this venue.

The stats:

Consistency of quality: *** (out of 5)

Funky Factor: 1/2

Classy Factor: ****

Do they take a commission? No fixed policy.

Who hangs the work? No fixed policy.

Can you put nails in the walls? No fixed policy.

Contact: Owner Sean O'Burn, can be reached at the store, 7a.m. to noon

Hours: Daily, 11am to 2am

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JERABEK'S NEW BOHEMIAN CAFE - 63 W Winifred St., 651-227-0654

The ambiance: Bohemian meets Grandma's house -- cozy mismatched furniture, delicious baked goods, and shelves full of consignment tchotchkes. Most of the art is shown in a back room, (lovingly called "the purple room"), which has been specifically converted into a colorful gallery space, kitted out with a few funky couches and tables.

The art: This venue exhibits a wide variety of work, from photos to computer graphics. Current show: portraits and colorful animal-like abstract paintings by Kristen Bothum.

The stats:

Consistency of quality: ***

Funky Factor: ****

Classy Factor: **

Do they take a commission? No

Who hangs the work? The artists

Can you put nails in the walls? Yes

Contact: Write [email protected] to reserve a spot on the waiting list (currently two years long); no work samples are necessary.

Hours: Monday-Friday, 6am-6pm, Saturday & Sunday 8am-2pm

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AMORE COFFEE 879 Smith Ave.W, 651-330-0570

The ambiance: Warm and chic, perfect for coffee with the girlfriends.

The art: Tasteful - inoffensive, but often fresh. Currently showing: empathetic urban environmental photography by Sharri Abbott and experimental photographic overlays by Robert Roscoe.

The stats:

Consistency of quality: *** (out of 5)

Funky Factor: **1/2

Classy Factor: ****

Do they take a commission? No

Who hangs the work? Staff works with artists to hang art

Can you put nails in the walls? This venue primarily uses a railing system, but they are happy to accommodate artists' needs

Contact: Call owner Kathy Houser, via store number, during regular store hours

Hours: Monday-Friday, 6am-6pm, Saturday & Sunday 8am-2pm

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Know a gallery/coffee shop/restaurant/bar/laundromat that we missed? Email tips to editor @mnartists.org - please be sure to mention the specific neighborhood of your suggested venue.

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About the author: Maggie Ryan Sandford is a writer based in St. Paul, Minnesota, with roots in Seattle and New York. She writes in various genres for ComedyCentral.com, the Onion A.V. Club, and mental_floss magazine, and her creative writing has garnered attention from the Seattle's Richard Hugo House, National Public Radio, NYtimes.com, and mnartists.org's mnLIT series. Some time, she would like to talk to you about the intersection of art and science.

MN Artists