The fate of the eclectic, multigenre Intermedia Arts is up in the air, but artists who helped make the organization what it is already are mourning its potential loss.
The south Minneapolis center is a crucial hub for Twin Cities artists, a place where budding spoken-word artist Dua Saleh, who is queer and Muslim, has been able to “exist in all my identities,” said Saleh, who has participated in a Queer Voices series at Intermedia specifically focused on queer Muslim artists.
“There’s no other space like Intermedia that is so open and willing to provide artists with things that will nourish their artwork and provide them with things they need to expand upon their identities without feeling scared.”
In September, a budget crisis caused Intermedia’s board to lay off its entire staff, although some programming continues. Financial reports obtained by the Star Tribune showed that costs had increased while revenue declined in recent years, with deficits of $335,743 in fiscal 2014 and $848,628 in 2015, the most recent year made public.
In addition to a long list of community partners, Intermedia rents out its facilities — which include a 120-seat theater, an art gallery and a shared workspace called ArtsHub — to a plethora of organizations, ranging from the Minnesota Fringe Festival to Curl Power hair salon, the Trans Job Fair and the Veterans Resilience Project.
It has played host to events such as Festival de las Calaveras for the Hispanic community; Up & Out: Coming Home for queer and trans youth; the Summer Hip Hop Institute led by local rappers Desdamona and Carnage — even a screening of a skateboarding video by Minneapolis’ Chris Burt.
While many arts organizations talk about aiming for diversity in their programming, Intermedia is unique in that it “comes from diversity rather than trying to get to diversity,” said artist Dougie Padilla, who has worked with Intermedia since the early 1990s and is part of the current “Dia de los Muertos” exhibition there. “I don’t see anybody else filling that niche. Someday, maybe.”
Tom Borrup, credited as the founder of Intermedia, served as executive director from 1980 to 2002. “It makes me feel good to see so many people of different backgrounds, ethnicities and creative styles working and enjoying getting creative in that space,” said Borrup, now a consultant who also leads the University of Minnesota’s graduate program in arts management. “I think it has symbolic value at this point in time as a community space. It goes way beyond its economic value — but you can’t have one without the other.”
Founded in 1973 by student media activists at the University of Minnesota, the organization was originally called University Community Video. It was renamed Intermedia in the 1980s and has been at 2822 Lyndale Av. S. since 1994, when it purchased the former Bee-Line auto repair shop with a $230,000 loan from the Minneapolis Community Development Agency.
The property was last appraised at $1.5 million about 18 months ago, according to internal notes viewed by the Star Tribune. About $425,000 remains on Intermedia’s mortgage, and the organization may be forced to sell the property to wipe out its debt.
Nicole M. Smith, a performing artist who has been working with Intermedia for the past seven years and was recently its community engagement coordinator, blames gentrification in the Lyn-Lake area and neighboring Uptown in part for the center’s plight.
“There are half-filled, quarter-filled perhaps, condos that have replaced important institutions and small businesses in this area,” said Smith. She wonders whether Intermedia’s taxes have risen because of higher property values in the area. “Blame can be placed in a lot of different places, but gentrification is the cousin of racism is the cousin of capitalism is the cousin of patriarchy is the cousin of on and on and on.”
Patrick’s Cabaret, a Minneapolis performing-arts organization, has staged events at Intermedia since losing its own home 17 months ago. Its executive director, Scott Artley, cautioned against blaming mismanagement alone for Intermedia’s problems.
“In some ways, and I say this as a white person, it’s so easy to say: Here’s an organization run by people of color, queer people, people with disabilities, who didn’t do it ‘right.’ What is the bigger picture? Is Intermedia, like Patrick’s Cabaret, run increasingly and patronized by people who already don’t have access to capital? Other organizations might have the ability to have someone swoop in and pay something. That’s not something that organizations like ours can afford. We don’t have those connections.”