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Arts flourish in downtown SPACES

If you haven't yet seen the colorful murals on the back doors of downtown businesses, take a drive through the alley behind Who's Bar, the Martial Arts Academy and the Stillpoint building. What's going on here? Art with an ulterior motive -- to p...

SPACES

If you haven't yet seen the colorful murals on the back doors of downtown businesses, take a drive through the alley behind Who's Bar, the Martial Arts Academy and the Stillpoint building. What's going on here? Art with an ulterior motive -- to promote business downtown while creating beautiful areas of the city.

A recently established group called SPAC2ES, which focuses on art as an economic development tool, represents artists, cultural organizations, businesses, Superior Chamber of Commerce, university staff and students, and city agencies. The goal is to develop art-based projects through collaboration to revitalize certain areas of the city while encouraging development of retail businesses. The murals on the back doors of the businesses on the 1100 block are the result of a pilot program called the "Back Door Project."

SPAC2ES, which stands for Superior Public Art Creating Community Environments, was formed in early 2009 as a result of the artworks conference in Duluth a year earlier. Partnering with the Superior Business Improvement District, SPAC2ES has short- and long-term goals. The Back Door Project is the first of two projects on the short-term goal list of bringing life to downtown even before the 2013 Tower Avenue reconstruction project, when front entrances will not be accessible.

The pilot was completed last summer. Through an artist call for entries, and the resulting selection process, Superior native, Erik Pearson, a painter, worked on the three back doors. While the murals are Erik's design, he did have to meet the criteria of space limitations around each door, and the designs had to include an image of the Grand Army of the Republic arch that once graced the corner of Broadway and Tower in the early 1900s. Upon approval by the three building owners, his colorful murals reflect both the character and history of the buildings and businesses that occupied these buildings. SPAC2ES committee chair, Karen Monson-Thompson, says the finished doors have exceeded the expectations of all involved and expects the expansion phase of the project to begin this summer. The BID has committed more funding from its annual budget to continue the back door project and SPAC2ES will issue a new call to entries for artists to participate.

The organization's second short-term project is the "Phantom Galleries-Superior," which will offer temporary public art in all disciplines in vacant storefronts. First in the downtown, then eventually throughout the city, each installation will again be a unique collaboration between the participating artist, a curator, the building owner, the neighborhood the exhibit is in, and the greater community. With more than 30 vacant storefronts, SPAC2ES aims to create a public art experience of visual excitement, and enliven these storefronts with vibrant art for the community and visitors and possibly future tenants. The first Phantom Gallery installments feature artwork by Ken and Kathy Kollodge in the New York building, David Durbis in the old JCPenney's Department store building on North 13th Street and Tower, and Jeredt Runions work will be in the front window of the Androy Hotel.

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SPAC2ES has received two grants to fund Phantom Galleries-Superior. The first for $10,000 is from the Morgan Fund of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation. The second for $5,000 is a Phantom Art Galleries grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with additional funding from the Nation Endowment for the Arts, a grant the board created specifically for Wisconsin communities that want to develop such a program. SPAC2ES is among the first recipients of this new grant.

With receiving more than $15,000 in grants this year, SPAC2ES has been able to hire local fiber artist Erika Mock as the director for Phantom Galleries-Superior. Monson-Thompson says this funding will also allow SPAC2ES and its partners to provide payment to the artists for their ideas and installation of their work in both projects.

"Treating artists as the business people they are will also add to the credibility of Superior becoming known as a community where artists are welcome, and the arts will flourish for the better of all of us," she said.

The long-term goals of the arts organization include improving streetscapes of major highways coming into Superior by use of landscaping, and art sculpture and a continuation of murals painted on historical properties and unattractive utility-type of structures.

Monson-Thompson says members of SPAC2ES feel that in these uncertain economic times, the WAB, and the arts are essential to the health and wealth of not just this community, but every community in the state of Wisconsin.

"The arts in Northwest Wisconsin are a business that brings in over $30 million to our area" she said. "In the long term, these projects will give downtown Superior more unique character, an upgraded image, and demonstrate the value of collaboration between artists and the business community."

Kathy Laakso is a SPAC2ES committee member.

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