In the aftermath of that 2008 financial crisis, Intermedia Arts had bounced back and were thriving.
By their 2013 fiscal year, they had a surplus of $802,713. That surplus continued until the 2015 fiscal year, when they reported a deficit of $335,743. That number has more than doubled since then, with a reported deficit of $848,628 in 2016 according to their 990 tax returns. Last week, they laid off their entire staff.
It certainly doesn't look good, and no doubt grievous mistakes were made by the organization’s leadership. (Attempts to reach two board co-chairs for this article did not garner response.)
Last week Intermedia was packed, both inside the gallery and out in the parking lot, for the opening reception of “Festival de las Calaveras: Día de los Muertos,” an exhibition featuring photography, drawings, paintings, and mixed-media work from local Latinx artists. The atmosphere, perhaps heightened by the tone of the show itself, was that of grief, shock, and sadness. Artists, community members, staff, and board members came together. Some people hugged, others had tears in their eyes.
The organization, which was formed in 1973 by University of Minnesota student activists, moved into their iconic mural and street art-decorated building on Lyndale Avenue in 1994.
Intermedia Arts is a special place. It’s a place where emerging artists can participate in their first show, and established artists can present their work in a supported environment. For partnering performance groups, the theater space is top notch; it's one of the only places in town that seats around 100 people with a high degree of tech capabilities.
“There’s something about doing a show at Intermedia’s space that ramps up artistic quality,” says Scott Artley, executive director of Patrick’s Cabaret. Through working with Intermedia, “for the first time we were presenting artists in a way that felt like it really valued and made value to their work.”
Patrick’s Cabaret, which lost its home in 2016, has continued its operations in the Intermedia annex space. After their current show, Controlled Burn, has its run, they have drafts of contracts for two events in March. However, Artley hasn’t had an update about what will happen between now and then.
Choreographer and producer Maia Maiden, whose artist showcases include Rooted: Hip Hop Choreographer’s Evening and Sistah Solo|Being Brothas, first became associated with Intermedia around 2008 or 2009 through women's hip-hop festival B-Girl Be.
“The space is unique,” Maiden says. “It has a real community connection. They have made sure that artists are at the forefront; that artists have a real space to speak their mind and be true to themselves.”
Maiden feels sad about the news of Intermedia’s financial troubles. She hopes the community can receive clarification on how these mistakes can be prevented in the future. “Why are we in this situation? How did we get to this place? To have everything seemed to be okay and then literally close within a week is devastating.”
Visual artist and teacher Katrina Knutson has curated shows at Intermedia, helped with gallery installs and de-installs, and event got married in the space in 2015. She first became associated with Intermedia through B-Girl Be, where she helped create a mural on the outside of the building. “It was my first time painting a legal wall,” says Knutson, whose background is in street art. “It is how I made my connections in the art scene in Minneapolis.”
Intermedia’s outdoor walls have had a big evolution. Initially they were free walls where artists from the community could welcome to paint what they liked. Eventually, they were curated by different people in the community. For the last two years, Joy Spika has tied the walls a bit more to what’s going on in the gallery and the theater.
“It really breaks my heart, knowing how well they actually connect with the youth, how empowered youth actually feel,” Knutson says. Just as she herself did when she was younger, people come to Intermedia “to make connections and learn how to make it in the world of art and beyond.”
That’s been true for Faheem Neuman, a high school student who was participating in Team Media Access. Neuman was one of a group of paid youth learning about video and media through creating content for clients.
He hopes the program can continue somehow. “As long as they are still saying we are meeting up, I’m going to meet up,” he says. “But I’m not going to look to Intermedia as a source of income.”
Photographer Anna Min, who was hired by the gallery early in her career to take publicity photographs, and has also presented her work there, and is currently a monthly donor, along with her partner. “I’m still donating monthly right now. It’s a question mark,” she says.
"Too big to fail" was a popular refrain of the 2008 financial crisis. Meaning, some banks and financial institutions were so big that if they were to fail, the consequences would be devastating to the economy. So businesses like Fannie Mae and AIG received bailouts in order to divert disaster.
What if we thought about that phrase in a different way? What if instead of “too big to fail” we changed it to “too important to fail,” and the key point was how much value an institution brought to a community? Not monetary value, but spiritual and artistic value: providing hope, bridging relationships, heralding unrepresented voices.
Who would get a bailed out then?
Can we afford to lose Intermedia Arts? Not only is it a safe space for marginalized groups -- including people of color, LGBTQ, indigenous communities, Latinx groups -- but it has actively worked to give voice to those different communities in an equitable way.
This Sunday, from 4 to 7 p.m., Rogues of Intermedia, an ad-hoc group of artists associated with Intermedia in different ways, will be leading an event (note: it is not organized by the board of directors). The Rogues are raising funds to support staff and artists impacted by IA’s transition, and are strategizing next steps. The event will feature performances by Desdamona Ross and others. They are also raising funds to go toward the artists here.