Minneapolis' late-lamented Intermedia Arts writes its final chapter – a $1 million check

Rohan Preston, Alicia Eler, Star Tribune
·3 min read

The saga of Intermedia Arts, the Minneapolis multi-genre venue that served marginalized communities for decades before running into fiscal trouble four years ago, is coming to a quiet, almost storybook close.

After selling its building near the trendy Lyn-Lake district and paying off debts, the organization donated $1 million to help Artspace, the nonprofit developer, acquire the Northrop King Building as a "crown jewel" for the northeast Minneapolis arts scene.

Now, for its final act, Intermedia is giving its remaining $1 million to a likeminded Minneapolis arts organization, Public Functionary.

"Let me tell you, it's been a long four years," said Omar Akbar, Intermedia's co-president. "But this is fantastic news because we were able to preserve some of the value of the organization, rather than have it keep down a path to bankruptcy and a slow, ugly death."

Founded in 1973, Intermedia ran unsustainable deficits in its final years, leading its board to sell the nonprofit's home at 2822 Lyndale Av. S. in a $3.5 million deal with RightSource Compliance, an affordable-housing concern. Completed in November 2018, the sale put an end to a space that had become a home for queer artists and people of color, and for experimental works that bridged genres — or fell outside of them.

Poets, dancers, musicians, filmmakers and painters lamented its fate. But the board vowed to further the organization's legacy, and asked for proposals about how best to do that.

Intermedia chose Public Functionary from among 28 applicants.

"There were a lot of worthy groups but Public Functionary was the most mission-aligned out of everybody we spoke to," Akbar said.

His hope is that Public Functionary will establish a physical space for multi-disciplinary artists and cultural producers, fulfilling an acute gap in the Twin Cities arts ecology since the closing of Intermedia.

"We commissioned a report to interview the community and had our own conversations about community needs," Akbar said. "Nine times out of ten, space was the predominant issue."

Founded in 2012, Public Functionary is a lot like the Intermedia of old. It operated a 2,500-square-foot art space in northeast Minneapolis for seven years before letting go of its lease. It shifted its efforts to Studio 400, a program led by artist Leslie Barlow that offers affordable studio space and collaborative opportunities to artists under age 30, prioritizing people of color.

"Leslie had this beautiful vision so we thought: Let's focus on that," said Tricia Heuring, Public Functionary's co-director/curator.

As of May, Public Functionary will have expanded from one to four studios in the Northrup King building.

Heuring said a significant part of Intermedia's $1 million gift will go toward building a multidisciplinary art space. The next step, she said, is to talk with partners and community members about how to collaboratively create the space. They hope it can be sustainable in the Northeast arts community, and plan to work with Artspace for a solution that won't price artists out of the neighborhood.

"Intermedia was a place that held space for community and I hope we can build on that," said Heuring, acknowledging the efforts of her team, including Barlow, Mike Bishop and Ryan Stopera.

When the pandemic hit 13 months ago, Public Functionary's focus shifted to the immediate needs of the community — but then one crucible was compounded by another with the killing of George Floyd. Led by Barlow and Stopera, the artists of Studio 400 launched #CreativesAfterCurfew, painting murals around the city calling for racial justice.

This week's announcement came at another tough time with the killing of Daunte Wright by Brooklyn Center police.

"Everyone is really overwhelmed by the news and has been really distracted this week," Heuring said. "We are excited but also heavy and sad."

Akbar said that the $1 million gift is not just to Public Functionary, but to the larger community, to carry on the spirit of his organization.

"Intermedia served a great purpose, and that purpose continues."

@RohanPreston • 612-673-4390 • rohan.preston@startribune.com

@AliciaEler • 612-673-4437 • alicia.eler@startribune.com