Go Underground With Soap Factory Director, Ben Heywood

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In northeast Minneapolis sits an old soap factory now filled with art. But the story behind the man who now runs the space starts far across the Atlantic Ocean in Britain, where Ben Heywood’s vision of art first started to take shape.

“I was spending time in London, so I was doing things like hanging out with Damien Hirst, and the Young British Artists,” said Heywood. “I remember thinking at the time, ‘Well, this is kind of cool. These are kind of slightly crazy, but really interesting people.’”

It was moments such these in the 90s: trips to Tracy Emin and Sarah Lucas’ Bethnal Green shop (which sold Damien Hirst ash trays); picnics thrown by London gallerist Joshua Compston; and spending time with rising stars of the British art scene that shaped Heywood’s perception of what art was.

“There was a lot of hanging around and hanging out,” Heywood said. “The early 90s were an interesting time in Britain.”

Creativity and art surrounded Heywood growing up. Both his parents (not to mention his grandmother) were architects, and the young Heywood could often be found paper in hand, drawing.

“I always thought my two options were either to be an artist or to do things around art. I didn’t really think I wanted to do anything else.”

The shy Heywood decided on the latter. After marrying a woman from Minnesota, he moved west. Once here he began volunteering at the Minneapolis gallery, Soap Factory, where he would return nearly six years later as the executive director.

“What I’m most proud of is saving this building and providing a place where, I hope, the artists of Minnesota and more widely in the Midwest region can find a place to make their work real,” Heywood said.

The gallery aims to help emerging and experimental artists realize major projects, such as when Andy Ducett turned the gallery into a “Midwestern nostalgia fun house,” or when the annual (and exceedingly disturbing) Haunted Basement takes up shop in the space (it’s billed as a “terror adventure designed to traumatize”).

“It seems in places like this you’ve got a real chance to do something different and really make something happen, rather than just be someone in a crowd,” Heywood said.

 

Andy Ducett's show, "Why we do this," at the Soap Factory. Photo credit: Soap Factory

After living in Minnesota for eleven years, the British-born director said the Minneapolis art scene is particularly active right now.

 “There seems to be just so much going on,” said Heywood. “I think it’s a really exciting time for creativity. In the last 10 years, the visual aspect of what we can see online has just really exploded.”

The alternative arts scene isn’t an exception. This week Heywood takes us underground; giving us a glimpse at just a few of the artists and creative things happening in Minnesota we should pay attention to.

“I’m always more interested in younger artists than I am older artists, or at least I’m interested in people who are invested in their own work. I think as some artists get older, especially if they get more successful commercially, there’s a huge pressure to keep making the same stuff over and over,” Heywood said. “The great thing about younger artists is they haven’t reached that phase yet and they’re still experimenting with what they do and the creativity is still firing up all over the place. That’s what exciting and interesting. I think that’s where I’d always like to be, with people who are still innovating within their own practice.”

 Pin #1: Rural American Contemporary Art is a project based in Mankato, Minn. from artist Brian Frink and his collaborators. RACA is an online exhibition project, a bi-yearly online magazine and a clearinghouse for issues related to artists working in rural locations, but who are creating critically engaged contemporary art. RACA arose from a sense of frustration that art from the rural is popularly defined within rigid and pre-defined aesthetic parameters of nostalgia. The impulse to make artwork away from urban centers always fascinated me, and at The Soap Factory we try to recognize and exhibit artists from outside of the mainstream, such as Peter Goche or Karl Unnasch.

 Pin #1: Rural American Contemporary Art is a project based in Mankato, Minn. from artist Brian Frink and his collaborators. RACA is an online exhibition project, a bi-yearly online magazine and a clearinghouse for issues related to artists working in rural locations, but who are creating critically engaged contemporary art. RACA arose from a sense of frustration that art from the rural is popularly defined within rigid and pre-defined aesthetic parameters of nostalgia. The impulse to make artwork away from urban centers always fascinated me, and at The Soap Factory we try to recognize and exhibit artists from outside of the mainstream, such as Peter Goche or Karl Unnasch.

Pin #2: "The Twin Cities hav e a vibrant history of artist-run underground and unofficial exhibition spaces. The most recent of those is Tuck Under Projects, based out of Pete Dreissen’s garage in South Minneapolis. The gallery hosts single artists and curated group exhibitions drawn from the Twin Cities’ artist community. With two great art schools, at least two great art museums, a sympathetic public and private funding environment and a relaxed big city/small town culture, the Twin Cities has always been a magnet for artists interested in a low pressure, but highly creative life. We need more spaces to exhibit all that creativity, and Tuck Under is a way to scratch that itch." — Ben Heywood

Pin #2: "The Twin Cities hav e a vibrant history of artist-run underground and unofficial exhibition spaces. The most recent of those is Tuck Under Projects, based out of Pete Dreissen’s garage in South Minneapolis. The gallery hosts single artists and curated group exhibitions drawn from the Twin Cities’ artist community. With two great art schools, at least two great art museums, a sympathetic public and private funding environment and a relaxed big city/small town culture, the Twin Cities has always been a magnet for artists interested in a low pressure, but highly creative life. We need more spaces to exhibit all that creativity, and Tuck Under is a way to scratch that itch." — Ben Heywood

Pin #3: “Two Minneapolis artists, David Pitman and Peter Thompson, started the Art Shanty project in 2004. Inspired by the rugged individualism engendered by the impossibly harsh winters in Minnesota, as well as the 'Don't Tread on Me' aesthetic of ice fishing, the project envisioned the tradition of the ice fishing shack (a permanent fixture throughout the winter on most of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes) as a space for making and presenting art and community projects. Shepherded for five years by The Soap Factory, The Art Shanty project is now its own non-profit, and has committed to annual projects in White Bear Lake, Minn. With an open submission process for artists across the country, it's been called 'Burning Man on ice', but the project is so much more than that; a real and authentic presentation of Minnesota winter culture in all its diverse forms. Coming to a frozen lake in January 2014!” – Ben Heywood

Pin #3: “Two Minneapolis artists, David Pitman and Peter Thompson, started the Art Shanty project in 2004. Inspired by the rugged individualism engendered by the impossibly harsh winters in Minnesota, as well as the 'Don't Tread on Me' aesthetic of ice fishing, the project envisioned the tradition of the ice fishing shack (a permanent fixture throughout the winter on most of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes) as a space for making and presenting art and community projects. Shepherded for five years by The Soap Factory, The Art Shanty project is now its own non-profit, and has committed to annual projects in White Bear Lake, Minn. With an open submission process for artists across the country, it's been called 'Burning Man on ice', but the project is so much more than that; a real and authentic presentation of Minnesota winter culture in all its diverse forms. Coming to a frozen lake in January 2014!” – Ben Heywood

Pin #4: “A project from artist/architect duo Shanai Matteson and Colin Kloecker, Works Progress is a collaborative nexus of creativity focusing on the artist and dialogues in public space. Since arriving on the local (and increasingly national scene) a few years ago, Works Progress has become an innovative indicator of the current conversation around 'place-making' and public space activity. From co-curating the wildly popular art variety show, Salon Saloon, to the Mississippi Megalops boat project and Give & Take (a series of public meetings, exchanges and dialogues), Works Progress brings an engaged community sensibility to all their projects. This is contemporary art with meaning and purpose beyond the gallery.” – Ben Heywood

Pin #4: “A project from artist/architect duo Shanai Matteson and Colin Kloecker, Works Progress is a collaborative nexus of creativity focusing on the artist and dialogues in public space. Since arriving on the local (and increasingly national scene) a few years ago, Works Progress has become an innovative indicator of the current conversation around 'place-making' and public space activity. From co-curating the wildly popular art variety show, Salon Saloon, to the Mississippi Megalops boat project and Give & Take (a series of public meetings, exchanges and dialogues), Works Progress brings an engaged community sensibility to all their projects. This is contemporary art with meaning and purpose beyond the gallery.” – Ben Heywood

Pin #5: “Artist Joan Vorderbruggen is a force of nature in the Minneapolis underground art scene. The list of urban projects she has single-handedly initiated, managed and steered to success is awe-inspiring. She built on a simple idea — putting artists’ work in vacant storefronts in Minneapolis' Whittier neighborhood — and turned it into a vital and important exhibition cycle for young and emerging artists. In the last two years she's worked with national feminist collective, The Guerilla Girls, on a billboard in support of equal marriage rights; she's programmed art spaces in Minneapolis' most embarrassing, abandoned downtown mall: Block E; while at the same time holding down a full-time job, pursuing her own practice as a video, textile and fabric artist and leading direct action to protect artists and vulnerable individuals in her South Minneapolis neighborhood. She's an example of what we all could achieve if we were just to take the step to action, rather than rely on the hope that 'someone else will do it.’ All hail, Joan!” – Ben Heywood

Pin #5: “Artist Joan Vorderbruggen is a force of nature in the Minneapolis underground art scene. The list of urban projects she has single-handedly initiated, managed and steered to success is awe-inspiring. She built on a simple idea — putting artists’ work in vacant storefronts in Minneapolis' Whittier neighborhood — and turned it into a vital and important exhibition cycle for young and emerging artists. In the last two years she's worked with national feminist collective, The Guerilla Girls, on a billboard in support of equal marriage rights; she's programmed art spaces in Minneapolis' most embarrassing, abandoned downtown mall: Block E; while at the same time holding down a full-time job, pursuing her own practice as a video, textile and fabric artist and leading direct action to protect artists and vulnerable individuals in her South Minneapolis neighborhood. She's an example of what we all could achieve if we were just to take the step to action, rather than rely on the hope that 'someone else will do it.’ All hail, Joan!” – Ben Heywood

 Pin #6: “Since relocating to the Twin Cities, Andy Sturdevant has established himself as the preeminent wit, flâneur and psycho-historian of the Twin Cities. A prolific author, performer and visual artist, there are few areas of the cultural life in the Twin Cities that Andy has not influenced (or even created). At The Soap Factory (where he volunteered for many years) he and Sergio Vucci helmed the Common Room urban tours/explorations. He emceed Works Progress' Salon Saloon, has an upcoming show at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (an investigation into the alleyways of South Minneapolis) and a book launching on October 3rd from Coffee House Press.” – Ben Heywood  

 Pin #6: “Since relocating to the Twin Cities, Andy Sturdevant has established himself as the preeminent wit, flâneur and psycho-historian of the Twin Cities. A prolific author, performer and visual artist, there are few areas of the cultural life in the Twin Cities that Andy has not influenced (or even created). At The Soap Factory (where he volunteered for many years) he and Sergio Vucci helmed the Common Room urban tours/explorations. He emceed Works Progress' Salon Saloon, has an upcoming show at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (an investigation into the alleyways of South Minneapolis) and a book launching on October 3rd from Coffee House Press.” – Ben Heywood

 

Pin #7: “The absolute crown jewel in Minnesota's architectural heritage is Marcel Breuer's St John's Abbey and University Church in Collegeville, Minn. A huge sail-like bell tower fronts this massive building of swooping swathes of shuttered concrete. While the church is largely untouched, many of the modernist furniture and fittings are gone. But for a Brutalist geek like myself, Breuer's vast church in the middle of rural Minnesota is the Lost Ark, Holy Grail and Temple of Doom rolled into one. Plus, for people who like illuminated manuscripts (that would be me), the college houses The Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, the world's largest collection of manuscript images from Europe, Ethiopia, the Middle East and India. That’s 125,000 manuscripts preserved on microfilm and in digital format, all in the middle of a field! How cool is that?!” – Ben Heywood

Pin #7: “The absolute crown jewel in Minnesota's architectural heritage is Marcel Breuer's St John's Abbey and University Church in Collegeville, Minn. A huge sail-like bell tower fronts this massive building of swooping swathes of shuttered concrete. While the church is largely untouched, many of the modernist furniture and fittings are gone. But for a Brutalist geek like myself, Breuer's vast church in the middle of rural Minnesota is the Lost Ark, Holy Grail and Temple of Doom rolled into one. Plus, for people who like illuminated manuscripts (that would be me), the college houses The Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, the world's largest collection of manuscript images from Europe, Ethiopia, the Middle East and India. That’s 125,000 manuscripts preserved on microfilm and in digital format, all in the middle of a field! How cool is that?!” – Ben Heywood