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The Northbound Q&A: Tricia Heuring

The Public Functionary co-founder on her favorite galleries, artists, distilleries, and plant shops

When Tricia Heuring moved to St. Paul in the summer of 2007, the Bangkok native figured she’d stick around long enough to earn an English/Communications degree at Macalester College. Nothing more, nothing less. After all, much of her childhood was spent in constant motion, studying a wide range of artistic mediums — painting, ceramics, screen printing, dance — at international schools throughout Asia and the Middle East.

“Moving to the U.S. was a big deal for me,” says Heuring. “I was terrified to be honest — an American who had never lived in the U.S.” (Her father’s side of the family comprises German immigrants who settled in Minnesota.)

“But after moving around for most of my life,” she continues, “it felt good to make one place my home. My community, friends, and family relationships kept growing over time here. I think that’s why I’ve stayed. Minnesota is a slow burn: The longer you stay, the deeper you fall in love with it.”

It helps that Heuring has had a big hand in shaping the local arts scene, from teaching MCAD students how to make creativity their career to keeping Public Functionary, the influential gallery she co-founded with Mike Bishop in 2013, on the cutting edge of curatorial programming. After closing the original space last spring, the duo started looking for their next permanent home and shifting their focus towards the launch of Studio 400. The 2,000-square-foot studio space in the creatives-packed Northrup King Building has a long-overdue mission within the metro area: to foster the personal and professional development of artists under the age of 30. Specifically, artists of color and anyone with limited access to funding and resources.

“[Studio 400] feels like an intervention,” says Heuring. “It is deeply intentional. What might be so palpable, is the significance of holding this space.”

Having exceeded its GoFundMe goal by $2,550 — similar to Public Functionary’s own successful Kickstarter campaign six years ago — Studio 400 is now up and running, with nine featured artists sharing its common areas and painter Leslie Barlow in place as its day-to-day program director.

Meanwhile, Heuring is in the final stages of figuring out Public Functionary’s next move — a crucial one considering the vital role it plays in showcasing and supporting the kind of contemporary artists that conservative museums and galleries miss because they’re more concerned with keeping things consistent or comfortable for viewers.

“Much of the Public Functionary ethos came through my own experience of trying to find my place in the Twin Cities art scene 10 years ago,” explains Heuring, “As a self-taught curator and woman of color, I suffered so frequently from imposter syndrome. I’ve since learned that you can become what you want to see if you have community support. Public Functionary is a space for artists to build that community. It’s not about validating art; it’s about validating artists — their process, their ideas, and their successes and failures.

She continues, “As my work has evolved through Public Functionary, I’m interested in the role that an exhibition / gallery space plays in welcoming audiences who previously felt excluded from the art world, but I’m also invested in imagining the next chapter of such a space. How do we both center and support the economic and emotional health of underrepresented artists, through a model that is replicable and adaptable for generations to come? I had to build from the ground up, so it’s important to me to create intentional space where the next generation doesn’t have to battle with being underrepresented and perhaps can just create and express their truth.”

 

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Recent Public Functionary pop-ups have included a conceptual installation by fashion designer Bris Carbajal at Sure Space (organized by Studio 400 artist / curator Sarah Nicole Knutson) and a Rosedale Center run by painter Maiya Hartman, which wraps up in January. Studio 400 will also be participating in Northrup King’s annual open studios event (Art Attack) the first weekend in November.

In the meantime, here is what Heuring likes to eat, drink, see, and do when she’s not burning the contemporary art candle at both ends….

You have to leave Minnesota tomorrow and can never come back. Where and how do you spend your last 24 hours in the state?
I’d probably bike around the Chain of Lakes. I love the lakes and I love biking in Minneapolis; it’s the first thing I look forward to when summer hits. If I really was leaving the state forever, I don’t think it would matter where I would spend my last hours, but with who! I think I’d book out a fabulous space — maybe the private room at Lat14 — and invite everyone I love for an amazing dinner party. I’ve lived in Minneapolis for 20 years; I’d want to spend my last day with good people.

Do you have a favorite day trip or weekend getaway within driving distance of the Twin Cities?
Franconia Sculpture Park, but in September and on a weekday! Waaaay too hot out there in the summer and too busy on the weekends! A must see: Clearing by Dream the Combine (Jennifer Newsom Carruthers and Tom Carruthers). It’s an expansive installation with mirrors that plays with the landscape magically.

What’s your favorite spot for escaping the city and enjoying the outdoors? Does it change seasonally?
Afton State Park anytime in the summer. I pretty much just hibernate in the winter and escape home to Thailand in January.

What’s the most underrated neighborhood in the Twin Cities and why?
I’m the Board Chair of the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council and I work as a consultant for Forecast Public Art, two organizations that have offices in the Creative Enterprise Zone, so I spend a lot of time in this area. It’s a neighborhood off of [Minnesota State Highway] 280 in St. Paul, kind of the mid-point between both downtowns. There are interesting plans to develop it, including the Chroma Zone fest that just added 12 large murals to the area.

How about a largely overlooked gallery — a place you go to feel inspired?
The Law Warschaw Gallery in the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center at Macalester College. Jehra Patrick is the gallery director/curator and her exhibits are incredibly provocative, well-curated, and timely. She’s been bringing in fantastic artists of color from out of state. Jordan Weber’s exhibit (“kNOw Spaces”) was one of my favorite shows last year.

Do you have a favorite piece or wing in the permanent collection of the Walker Art Center or Minneapolis Institute of Art?
I will forever be enthralled by Kehinde Wiley’s Santos Dumont – The Father of Aviation II at Mia. I first saw it in 2010, when Mia did its “Art ReMix” and installed contemporary pieces within the historical rooms. They installed the massive Wiley painting in a room with Baroque paintings. It was captivating. In 2010, Wiley was not as largely known; this would have been 8 years before he painted Obama’s portrait for the National Portrait Gallery. But seeing it instigated my thinking about artists of color and their representation in art history.

Imagine we just handed you $200 to spend anywhere in the Twin Cities. Where are you shopping and what are you buying?
Minneapolis Vintage Market! Vintage clothes, housewares, jewelry. Or Tangletown Gardens; ugh, I’d love $200 to splurge on their amazing house plants and fancy pots.

The Minnesota State Fair: Love it or hate it? Why?
Love / hate? It’s so ridiculous and exactly the same. Every. Single. Year. Every year I tell myself I’m skipping it, until everyone starts posting pictures and my FOMO sets in….

Who is a local artist, maker, or other creative type who’s really inspiring you right now and why?
So many! Karmel Sabri, the producer of Dear Gaza.

Koua Mai Yang, a St. Paul-based Hmong artist who has been wearing traditional Hmong dress every day for close to a year. She traveled to Europe this summer and continued the practice overseas. She documents her experience on her Instagram, and it is still in progress.

Lady Midnight just dropped a new album (Death Before Mourning). I’m so inspired by how she fully embodies her art.

Dua Saleh, an immense musical talent, was recently featured on Colors.

Meg Lionel Murphy. Her paintings are mesmerizing.

You’re eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner out. Where are you going for each meal and what are you ordering?
Breakfast at Alma for its baked egg strata. Lunch at World Street Kitchen for the Bangkok burrito, of course. Dinner at Hai Hai for turmeric and dill fish.

Wine, beer, or cocktails? Pick your poison and the local bar, brewery, or distillery that does it best.
Not a beer drinker at all. There’s this lesser-known distillery much farther down Central in Northeast, right in my neighborhood: Twin Spirits Distillery. Delicious cocktails, lots of cozy fire pits outside, and it’s woman-owned. I’m also a big fan of bubbles. Trapeze in Uptown, next to Barbette, has an extensive sparkling wine menu.

You have $100,000 to film a documentary about anything in Minnesota. What’s it on?
I would absolutely produce a documentary about the Scaffold incident at the Walker Art Center, using it as a framework to explore the obligation of publicly funded art museums to the communities and the land on which they exist. The film would be grounded in Dakota history in Minnesota and be shaped by the perspectives of Dakota storytellers, artists, and activists.

You have five minutes with the mayor to make your case about a particular subject. What do you bend his ear about?
I’d love to talk to Mayor Frey about his recent inclusion in his 2020 proposed budget, a provision to designate six “cultural districts” — West Broadway Avenue in North Minneapolis, Central Avenue in Northeast, Cedar-Riverside, Franklin Avenue, East Lake Street, and 38th Street. I’d like to know more about who gets access to the funding and through what process. I’d hope that there is an innovative approach in mind when funding specific “zones”… as things like this can be tools of gentrification. I want to know who the key decision makers are and how and when communities will be represented in the process.

What makes you proud to live here?
The Legacy Amendment. The fact that Minnesota voters passed an amendment to dedicate a percentage of tax revenue to clean water, preserving parks, trails, and the arts! And that as taxpayers, we can access those funds directly through grants.

THE LIGHTING ROUND

Last great book you read…
Decolonizing Wealth by Edgar Villanueva.

Last great movie you saw…
Selma

TV show you’re bingeing on…
Euphoria

Favorite local museum or gallery…
Minneapolois Institute of Art

Favorite local Instagrammers?
@sarahwhiteblack
@bobbyrogers_
@minneapolis.eats

A regional event or festival you look forward to every year…
Little Mekong Night Market. I’m also a fan of Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival. They didn’t do the festival in 2019 but supposedly it’s coming back next summer!

Your go-to karaoke song…
Oh god. I would never sing in public, lol.