News of a temporary closing is bubbling up around the Soap Factory, a Minneapolis art gallery housed in a 130-year-old building.
The gallery is "going dark" during the first few months of 2016, as it did earlier in its 26-year history, this time because of financial problems. The budget issues stem from recent renovations and rescinded grant funding following former executive director Ben Heywood's departure. Only one program, "Artists on the Verge," is slated for next year, compared with the gallery's more robust lineup.
"This is a hiatus," said David Fey, the gallery's interim director. "This is not a permanent closing."
The gallery's board hired Fey, who consults for nonprofits, to make the transition to new leadership after Heywood left in June to run an arts venture in Seattle. Heywood's exit prompted the loss of a $150,000 grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation, whose terms exclude galleries with interim leadership.
"We realized fairly early in the interim that we had some work to sort out with the financial situation," Fey said. "Keeping the current programming running has been the focus for the couple months of the transition."
Fey added that the board has not yet formally begun an executive search. In the meantime, board members are meeting with stakeholders "as a time of reflection and planning," Megan Leafblad, the board's chair, said in a release.
The Soap Factory has been a site of rotating arts programs and a launchpad for rising Twin Cities artists, whose work is primarily installation or performance. For the last decade, the gallery also hosted October's popular Haunted Basement — which charged about $20 a ticket and attracted more than 14,000 people in 2014.
The large gallery is located amid ongoing construction, mostly residential, along the nearby riverfront. Beth Bowman, whose position as associate director was terminated unexpectedly last week, said she had been contacted by several prospective buyers of the building in the past.
The space's raw, industrial nature — it once was a real soap factory — has been fertile ground for artists looking to experiment. Chris Larson, an instructor at the University of Minnesota, had recently shown his first operatic event, "Wise Blood," there, an undertaking he organized and commissioned with the Walker Art Center.
"The Soap Factory was a perfect venue, just in terms of the building, for my work," Larson said.
He added: "I know this is an attractive place for condos to go up; there's sort of a Lorax in that area. But they've hung on."
A curator at the Walker, Philip Bither, said the space offers "a certain ambience" because of its "warehouse quality." Bither is also a board member for the Jerome Foundation, a St. Paul-based arts organization.
"I think Soap has given a lot of support to emerging Minnesota artists, and I know that the foundation is very much hoping that they'll get on their feet and continue to do the great work that they're doing."
The Soap Factory's board will host a public conversation about its future at 6 p.m. Dec. 1 at the gallery.