Abby and Orin Rutchick, co-founders of the Mpls Photo Center, at the popular Minneapolis venue. Star Tribune photo by Sara Glassman

After seven years nurturing the Mpls Photo Center, co-founders Abby and Orin Rutchick are looking to sell the business and move on. By next winter they hope to be settled in northern California, most likely Oakland, near their daughter Andrea, 36, and her four children, and not far from their son  Maxx, 27, who lives in Sonoma. 

"We're not looking for somebody just to manage MPC and we'd own it from a distance. We want out," said Orin, 63. "This is an opportunity for a younger person with passion and energy to create a future for themselves and take it to the next level, or for someone older and retired who wants to continue to be of service to the community."

Incorporated as a for-profit business, MPC is unusual in that it provides many of the educational opportunities and community features common to nonprofit organizations such as Highpoint Center for Printmaking or the Northern Clay Center. They all operate galleries that stage regular exhibitions, complete with publications, in their respective fields. All offer lectures, discussions, classes and workshops primarily for adults. They all have studios, work space and equipment for rent or cooperative use. Highpoint and the Clay Center have more ambitious and extensive educational programs for kids, but the basic services are similar in the three organizations.

The chief differences show up in the organizations' basic structures. Highpoint and the Clay Center have boards of directors to oversee their operations, and staff members who seek grants and help stage fund raising events. Their exhibition programs are more sophisticated and often feature international artists and complex exhibitions that require museum-style security and transportation. And both Highpoint and the Clay Center own their buildings.

By contrast, MPC is owned run by the Rutchicks with the assistance of a facilities manager, a part-time staff member, a bookkeeper and an accountant. Classes are taught by professional photographers operating as independent contractors. It's so down-home and personal that Orin even cooks the lunchs and prepares the snacks set out at openings.

"We offer about 25 classes per month taught by 10 different photographers," Orin said. "We try to provide classes that mold photographers from just learning how to use a camera to framing, editing, creating a personal project and then getting them out there to work."

The Rutchicks rent 12,000 square feet in an old brick warehouse into which they've invested "quite a bit of leasehold improvements," including building studios, digital labs, dark rooms, a gallery, storage and meeting spaces. They own the equipment -- printers, cameras, computers, lights and other photographic gear. 

"This was always built to be a self-sustaining entity that survives on its own revenue; it's a revenue generating machine," Orin said.

Even so, they investigated the possibility of transforming it into a nonprofit organization "but it appears to be so complicated to get anything out of it that a personal sale, a for-profit sale, makes the most sense." he continued.

"We have certain things that we make money with, things we spend money for. There's no secrets," Rutchick said. " Nobody is going to get rich but they can enjoy what they're doing. It's like a community center or a hobby farm for photography. Rather than playing basketball, they're doing photography."

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