I was a news intern at MinnPost, a nonprofit, high-quality news source based in Minnesota, in the fall of 2013 as part of the HECUA: Writing for Social Change program. I wrote and photographed in-depth feature stories on the trafficking and prostitution of women in Minnesota – a previously little-reported topic for the organization – as well as assisted reporters with research for stories on education and addiction. I also took on a self-directed video project and longer-term photo project capturing Twin Cities landmarks for the site’s future use.
I Have a Constant Global Home
T H I R T Y T W O , I S S U E 4
Fresh off the heels of a successful $30,000 Kickstarter campaign, curator Tricia Khutoretsky opened Public Functionary’s doors April 20. Situated in Northeast Minneapolis, the gallery shares space with creative firm Permanent Art & Design Group and digital printer The Lab. We talked to Tricia about how the nearby trains inspire her, the need to bring more outside artists to Minnesota, and how her eclectic international background informs her work.
Your building is kind of tucked away behind a train overpass in Northeast—looking around, the space just seems to breathe creative collaboration.
Yes. We share space with two businesses. Public Functionary is a nonprofit art gallery, but I’m really big on nonprofits and for-profits working together. Even as business models, I think they have a lot to learn from each other. Working so closely with these businesses, I’m forced to think of myself as a for-profit as well because that’s how they are driven. But they’re also very aware of the way that everything I do is mission-driven, has a community focus, and is working toward a bigger impact, so that informs their work as well. It’s an interesting synergy for us.
So what is the concept behind Public Functionary?
Permanent Art & Design Group and I have all been really involved with the local community for a long time. Public Functionary is all of our collective learnings within the last eight years. When we decided that we wanted to create a new gallery space, we spent a long time observing the Twin Cities art scene and going to all the different galleries, from the tiny ones to the Walker and the MIA, just trying to get an overall vision of what’s going on here. We asked ourselves, if we were to start a gallery, what would it be and where would it fit? What do we need here? Before Public Functionary, we were running two galleries—XYandZ gallery and CO exhibitions. In the last six months of running both galleries, everything we did was a test to conceptualize the new space—what happens when we do this, how does the public respond to this, how does this artist work with that artist? I think that Public Functionary has this really fresh, innovative feel to it because it has come out of a lot of experimentation. The purpose of Public Functionary is to be very social, and to facilitate dialogue and create a community around artwork. We want it to have the feel of both an event space and an art gallery.
What role does new technology play when conceptualizing a contemporary art space?
I think technology, for us, is just making the most of the way we communicate online. For example, you can provide context for an art show by referring to things like past interviews of an artist. You can pull old videos—you can pull anything and share it online. So it’s not just an exhibit in a physical space, but it’s also happening in the shared space online. Once we have our website up, it will be incorporating the idea that an exhibit or an art space doesn’t exist in a box anymore—it also exists online. The artist can hang out on a Google Hangout and meet with people and talk about his or her work. We can share video; we can do podcasts. Technology changes how you can share art. In the physical space, we might install two TV screens into the back wall. Things like this are done in the Walker and the MIA, but they’re not usually done in smaller gallery spaces. We’re trying to blur that line of gallery and museum by using a lot of things that institutions use to be really forward-thinking, but in a smaller, more intimate, more accessible space.
The space has a special feel to it, with all those long, heavy trains passing by.
The trains are awesome. They are some of my favorite things. Where art spaces are located makes a really big difference. It matters. The MIA is right next to the children’s museum and MCAD, which is an amazing design school and has that big park in front of it. The Walker is at the major intersection between Uptown and Downtown and everything that’s going on there—there’s just movement and energy around these spaces. And so being next to the trains, there’s constant movement, and there’s this idea of things coming in and out and how trains go so far all over the country. What we’re trying to do with this space is to bring in ideas from outside of Minnesota and then send something back out. We’re opening with a show by DZINE, a Puerto Rican artist. We’re showing his work and relating it to Latino communities here and finding ways to help start a dialogue about what it means to be Latino in Minnesota, even though he’s from Chicago. I like the idea of this in-and-out movement. I think that’s a parallel to the trains, so it’s fitting. It feels right.
It seems that looking for artists beyond Minnesota makes you different from many of the smaller galleries who are mostly focusing on local art.
There are galleries that do bring in outside artists, but I think that often, they don’t really say why. They just say, ‘Oh, this artist is from New York. We’re showing his work.’ If we bring in an artist like this one from Chicago, we’re really going to explain, ‘Okay, what is the connection to Minneapolis, to the Twin Cities? Why does that matter?’ And I think that might be where we’re different and where I’ve identified what’s missing here. So it’s not just the fact that we’re bringing in outside artists, it’s that we’re really exploring the reason behind it and the benefit. And what does it do to elevate local artists? What does it do to provide context of contemporary art as a whole so that we can better understand our own art community? What kind of artists do we have here? I think some people are scared of comparing and contrasting, but I don’t think you’re going to have any awareness of how you can grow or how you can get better, unless you do compare and look.
You are a pretty global thinker—tell us a little bit more about your background.
I was born in Thailand and grew up in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Hawaii, but the bulk of my life was in Egypt. I was there for ten years, until I was eighteen. And then I moved back here for college, but my parents have remained overseas. They’ve lived in Abu Dhabi, and currently, my dad is in Jordan and my mom is in Thailand. My husband is a techno DJ, and he’s based in Berlin half the year, so I end up in Europe quite a bit as well. I just have a constant global home.
So how does that global view inform your work?
It’s definitely something that drives me. I went to an international school, and I think what stays with me is the experience of being around these people that were very different but yet being able to find common ground and become a community. Even here, people are from different places and what I’m trying to do, through art, is find that place of connection. So that people can relate to each other about something, that everybody can be in this space around beautiful art and that it becomes the language that everybody speaks. The problem, though, is that art language is very elitist and it can often be alienating, so the challenge is finding a way to make people feel that it’s okay to talk about it in a different way than the art world does. We can show art differently, we can present it differently and we can use different tools—because we’re trying to create something new. So I think that’s where my background inspires what I’m doing as a curator.