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Ann Klefstad takes mnartists.org's neighborhood-by-neighborhood artists' guide to Minnesota's coffee house gallery scene Up North, with this "best-of" survey of alternative exhibition spaces in Duluth and Superior.
By Ann Klefstad
January 12, 2011
A view on Tim Young's paintings, as seen from the staircase at The Red Mug

Photo courtesy of The Red Mug's website

ART MARKETING IN THIS SMALL NORTHCOAST CITY is pretty well served by its galleries (starting with Lizzards, Waters of Superior, and Sivertson Gallery, and also in nonprofit galleries such as the Duluth Art Institute, and more), but there are many other venues in Duluth where artists may show and sell their work, with varying degrees of professionalism and artist support, and number of sales.

These alternative spaces are spread all over the city, and even a little outside of it. Maybe the best coffeehouse/gallery in the city isn't even in the city, but in an outlying territory called Superior, Wisconsin -- Souptown, to locals.

In this installment of mnartists.org's ongoing artists' guide to the best of Minnesota's many coffee shops, cafes, bars, and salons that double as gallery spaces, we'll point you to those spaces at the intersection of art and coffee and hair Up North.

For this installment: Duluth/Superior

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THE RED MUG - 916 Hammond Ave., Superior, WI (just over the Blatnik Bridge from downtown Duluth), 715-392-2662

The ambience: The café is in the ground floor of a historic stone building that's been rehabbed by its artist residents. So the ambience is lovely -- not surprisingly art-soaked, art-friendly, relaxed. There's wi-fi, and many people come here to work; laptops are open and busy during the day. But they also have excellent music of the roots or singer-songwriter persuasion in the evening, and the café serves beer and wine, along with a light menu featuring baked goods from the artisan bakery upstairs.

The art: Recently, the café hosted a holiday showcase of the artist-residents of the building: Karin Kraemer's majolica ware, the painting of Tim Young, Erik Pearson, Karesse Pastore, Adam Swanson, and more. Through January and February, they're showing paintings by Mary Kallemeyn. Ordinarily the gallery hosts one-person shows by artists from the wider community. The quality is professional, quirky, poetic -- manager Anna Hanson or owner Kat Eldred choose work.

The stats (out of 5 stars):

Consistency of quality: *****

Funky Factor: ***

Classy Factor: ***

Contact: Contact Anna ([email protected]).

Hours: Monday -Thursday, 7 am -7 pm; Friday - Saturday, 7 am - 10 pm; Sunday 9 am -5 pm.

Do they take a commission? Yes, 30%; but they also provide artists with an opening reception, publicity via their website and through calendar postings and postcards. Artists often sell work out of shows here, particularly if the price point is from $100-$200.

Who hangs the work? Artists hang their own shows with help from staff.

Can you put nails in the walls? Hanging system provided.

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PIZZA LUCE - 11 E. Superior St., Duluth, 218-727-7400

The ambience: Pizza Luce is located at the intersection of the two main streets in downtown Duluth, Superior Street and Lake Avenue. This makes it the de facto town square, and it has become more than a pizza joint in consequence. They have a separate bar and host many great concerts, focusing on local rock, roll, or roots talent like Al Sparhawk's several projects, or bands like Yeltzi, Coyote, or Cars and Trucks, and sometimes importing Brother Ali or other notable Twin Cities acts. Their Sunday brunches are leisurely and gluttonous, and they're open very early and very late.

The art: This can be little uneven, maybe deliberately so. Funky imagemakers like Jeredt Runions have shown here; so have photographers of the big hometown music fest Homegrown -- but regional blue-chippers like Adu Gindy have also exhibited here. In other words, you never know. And that's a good thing.

The stats (out of 5 stars):

Consistency of quality: ****

Funky Factor: ***

Classy Factor: ***

Contact: Contact music and arts director Alex Bauer at [email protected].

Hours: Sunday -Thursday 8 am-1:30 am; Friday - Saturday 8 am - 2:30 am.

Do they take a commission? No. They will facilitate sales; if people ask about the art, staff passes on artist's contact information. Generally, they do ask that the art stay until the show is over, but if an artist sells a piece to a tourist passing through, and the buyer needs to take the work right away, the artist is allowed to swap another piece in for it.

Who hangs the work? The artist is responsible for hanging the work, but Alex will go over it with artists and provide help if needed.

Can you put nails in the walls? Hanging system is provided.

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THE VENUE AT THE MOHAUPT - 2024 W. Superior St., Duluth, 218-940-2440

The ambience: The Venue's nature changes from time to time, depending on who's using the big room for what. But what it always is, is a suite of offices for arts- and entertainment-related businesses, both nonprofit and for-profit. It's located on the second floor of a funky building in what used to be called the West End but is now known as Lincoln Park. This is a part of Duluth that tourists don't know well; it's the gateway to the old industrial city. Right now, the Rubber Chicken Theater company is performing there a couple nights a week. The art is hung mostly along the hallways of the office suite; some is installed in the performance room. The space is scruffy, urban, and human.

The art: There have been photo exhibitions here (Sue Sojourner's The Some People of This Place, a photo-documentation of the civil rights era from a small Mississippi town), as well as paintings, collages, and more.  Right now, there's no art up.

The stats (out of 5 stars):

Consistency of quality: ***

Funky Factor: *****

Classy Factor: **

Contact: Contact Mike at 218-940-2440.

Hours: Monday - Thursday: 9 am - 5 pm; Friday 9 am - 12 midnight; Saturday 12 pm -12 midnight.

Do they take a commission? Yes, 20%; they do facilitate sales.

Who hangs the work? Artists are responsible for hanging work, but the staff will help.

Can you put nails in the walls? Yes.

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LAKE AVENUE CAFÉ - 394 Lake Avenue in the DeWitt Seitz Building, a landmark warehouse-turned-retail building in Canal Park, Duluth

The ambience: The Lake Avenue Café has been around for 20 years as a comfortably classy but informal restaurant; it was recently bought by the current owners, who are re-creating it in hipper directions, but working to retain its unstuffy nature. It's now a "locavore microdistillery" that specializes in game, fish, and lovely cocktails -- but along with events like the Holiday Sinatra Cocktail Party, they host weekly, Monday night Scrabble tournaments. So, as is true of much of Duluth, tony is interleaved with human here in pretty fun ways. 

The art: The person choosing the art is the same person who crafts the cocktails -- Derek Snyder. And his eye is good. Painter Bob Pokorny was a recent exhibitor, as was printmaker Joel Cooper.  These artists' works sold well, though, as usual, artists whose pieces are priced at under $500 tend to sell better than those whose work is pricier.  Artists who show here often have gallery representation as well, and are professional.

The stats (out of 5 stars):

Consistency of quality: *****

Funky Factor: *

Classy Factor: ****

Contact: Contact Derek at 722-2355, but avoid calling during busy restaurant hours. He gets in to work around 10 am, and that's not a bad time to get in touch.

Hours: Sunday - Thursday, 11am - 9 pm (bar hours are later); Friday - Saturday, 10 am - 10 pm.

Do they take a commission? No. They do host opening parties for artists, if the artist requests it; and they do facilitate sales.

Who hangs the work? The artists are responsible for hanging work, but staff can help.

Can you put nails in the walls? Hanging system is provided.

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BEANERS CENTRAL - 324 N. Central Ave. (a block off the freeway at the Central Avenue exit), Duluth, 218-624-5957

The ambience: Beaners Central is a West Duluth neighborhood coffee shop with wi-fi, and so it's a home away from home for a lot of regulars during the day. At night, for three or four nights a week, it also becomes one of Duluth's best music venues, pulling in people from all over the city. Beaners serves good beer and wine, as well as coffee and a light menu.

The art:  Owner Jason Wussow, a musician (Yeltzi and other bands) and music producer, picks the art, which is eclectic, very individual, very Duluth. Last month it was Turtle, whose surreal, brilliantly colored scenes seem to be acquiring some comic touches. This month, they're showing work by painter Dale Lucas. The space for the art isn't huge, but it's well contained and so the space has a "gallery" air. Some artists do an opening reception; Jason will help out with publicity through the website and through social media listings and calendars, and he says he'll run the sound if an artist wants to bring in a band for an opening.

The stats (out of 5 stars):

Consistency of quality: ****

Funky Factor: ****

Classy Factor: **

Contact: Contact Jason, especially in the morning, at 218-624-5957.

Hours: 6:30 am - 8 pm, unless there's music, in which case they're open 'til 11 pm.

Do they take a commission? No.

Who hangs the work? The artist is responsible for hanging work, but staff can help.

Can you put nails in the walls? Hanging system is provided.

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ADELINE INC SALON GALLERY - 1328 E. 1st Street, 218-728-8099

The ambience: This hair salon is the creation of Adeline Wright, whose way with hair has gained her a hyper-loyal following. Adeline uses her space as a gallery for local art. The salon used to be in Suite 202 of the Building for Women, and is a somewhat politicized space: it stands for feminism, freedom, and an unbridled love of the aesthetic. It's now in a street-level storefront space, but its commitments remain.

The art: Adeline chooses the art. Currently, Torey Bonar (Haley Bonar's little sister) has work up; Aaron McLeod also showed there recently.

The stats (out of 5 stars):

Consistency of quality: ****

Funky Factor: **

Classy Factor: ****

Contact: Contact Adeline, at 728-8099

Hours: Winter hours are 10 am - 8 pm, Thursday, Friday, Saturday.

Do they take a commission? No.

Who hangs the work? Artists can work with staff to hang their pieces.

Can you put nails in the walls? Hanging system is provided.

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Know a gallery/coffee shop/restaurant/bar/salon/laundromat that we missed?  Email your tips to [email protected].

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About the author: Ann Klefstad is an artist and writer in Duluth.

MN Artists