Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



Out-of-gallery experiences

Sporting sweatpants and an unfussy ponytail, Connie Bruse basked in the attention. The West Fargo fiber artist had just finished hanging a February exhibit of her vibrant hand-dyed cotton collages. She stepped back and spied on the onlookers. She...

Artwork by Sandra Miles

Sporting sweatpants and an unfussy ponytail, Connie Bruse basked in the attention.

The West Fargo fiber artist had just finished hanging a February exhibit of her vibrant hand-dyed cotton collages. She stepped back and spied on the onlookers. She watched them slow their pace as the artwork caught their eye. She saw them squint and shamble up close to inspect the pieces' elaborate yarn embellishments. She overheard them wonder out loud, "How did she do that?"

Artists in sweatpants usually find it hard to blend in so well in the rarefied atmosphere of art galleries. But then again, Bruse was not at an art gallery per se. She was setting up her solo show at Fargo's Dakota Clinic atrium.

The atrium is one of many area businesses and nonprofits that double as laid-back art venues, far outnumbering more traditional gallery spaces that emerging artists sometimes can't readily infiltrate. Shows at these venues might not look impressive on a resume or deliver throngs of cash-wad-wielding art connoisseurs. But they offer a launching pad to creative careers, an audience that might not normally hang out at museums - and, as in Bruse's case, a welcome boost in self-confidence.

"Being new, I was amazed at how much traffic went through - and they stopped!" Bruse says. "I was getting a big head."


Bruse's current show, "Inspired Designs," opened May 16 at Nichole's Fine Pastry. The artist discusses her fiber collages at a Tuesday reception.

Ubiquitous displays

Besides the walls of Dakota Clinic and its competitor MeritCare, local original art inhabits just about every coffee shop in town, a number of fine dining establishments (Littlefield's in West Fargo and the HoDo, to name a few) and churches, such as Moorhead's Trinity Lutheran. At Kim Jore's new Riverzen salon in downtown Moorhead, customers gaze at her paintings as they have their hair styled. Sculptor Dwight Mickelson contributed an assemblage featuring rusty scissors artfully arranged on corrugated tin, and Jore thinks of eventually showcasing the work of other artist friends.

The arrangement is a great case of business-art world synergy.

"I get the value of having new artwork every month and something exciting and different that changes the ambience," says Jerry Stromberg, owner of Fargo's Ristreto Coffee and Tea. These days, Meg Spielman Peldo's photo collages of sunflowers and verdant fields add a splash of springy color to the shop's trendy, minimalist interior.

The artists are happy with the deal, too. Three years ago, Barb Dalen volunteered to line up artwork for the Dakota Clinic atrium to showcase the work of fellow Red River Watercolor Society members. Soon, she yearned to expand the offering beyond that medium. Fortunately, she is also a member of FM Visual Artists and the Cormorant Area Art Club, among other artist groups, so the atrium has featured anything from photography to wire sculpture and glass works.

Currently, when patients are not looking at pamphlets and posters on high blood pressure and insomnia, they can meditate on the peaceful patio scenes and blooming flowers in Sandra Miles' watercolors.

Decent exposure


Granted, artists don't always report major sales in these nontraditional venues. In two months at the atrium, Bruse sold one piece. (In the meantime, she sold four out of a Bismarck gallery to a dentist looking to decorate his new office.)

But the atrium customer was an older gentleman and apparently first-time art buyer who spotted the cheery purple-hued piece while waiting for test results and gave it to his wife for her birthday. Tapping into this potential clientele of non-gallery goers makes these venues especially appealing.

"From the garbage man to the doctor walk in and see your work," says Bob Wimmer, who sold four photo landscapes during two shows at Ristreto. "These places are a great catapult for artists to get their name out there."

Many of these venues, such as Ristreto, Moxie Java and Atomic Coffee, don't charge a commission on sales. Commissions - 25 percent at Nichole's, 30 percent at Babb's Coffee - might get perks such as the free labels, posters and reception refreshments at Nichole's.

These spaces generally host shows on a first-come-first-serve basis, but, in a testament to the area's art scene verve, artists might need to arm themselves with patience. The atrium, at one time booked for more than a year ahead, has now scheduled shows for the next six months. Nichole's has a list of 25 artists who've expressed interest in showing there.

Emerging artists are regulars at these venues. Ristreto, for instance, featured a spree of shows by recent Minnesota State University Moorhead grads, including Wimmer, who quit his job in aircraft mechanics to pursue an art degree at the school.

But established local artists don't shy away from these spaces. Glass blower Jon Offutt, whose work is part of the Plains Art Museum permanent collection, has shown at Atomic and the atrium.

"I don't know any artist who isn't going to take any opportunity to show their work," says FM Visual Artists vice president Mary Pfeifer, whose paintings are on display at her church, Fargo Church of Christ. And she feels the art displays cropping up all over town benefit the artist community as a whole.


"It's kind of like when Krispy Kreme came to town," she says. "Sandy's Donuts expanded because everybody was thinking about donuts. The more people think about art and see art, the better it is for all artists."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529

Artwork by Sandra Miles

What To Read Next
Get Local