Art on the Road

A new gallery-on-wheels connects art with the natural world.
Hanna Johnson (on guitar) and Heather Rutledge at one of last fall's trial runs of ArtReach St. Croix's mobile art gallery.

At its best, art has the power to engage the mind, provoke the senses and forge connections between communities and the people in them. Through an innovative new project, ArtReach St. Croix promises to do exactly that. With its recently completed mobile art gallery, the organization will bring art into the community, aiming to spread enthusiasm for art of all disciplines and celebrate the St. Croix Valley’s vibrant arts scene. This summer, the mobile art gallery will hit the open road, traveling across the region to bring community members an opportunity to engage with art and the natural world in creative ways and unexpected places.

The idea for such a project first popped up about three and a half years ago in one of ArtReach’s board retreats, as staff and board members were brainstorming new ways to fulfill the organization’s mission. “We’re a regional organization, and we work with artists and arts organizations in a lot of different disciplines, including the visual arts, performing arts and literary arts,” executive director Heather Rutledge says. “We were thinking of ways we could be truly regional and truly multidisciplinary.” Given its ability to travel and exhibit a diverse range of art—whether it be paintings, photographs or performances—the mobile art gallery certainly fits the bill.

Thanks to grants, business sponsorships and a successful crowdfunding campaign, the mobile art gallery was fully built by last September. ArtReach took it out on the road for a few weekend test-runs that fall, but 2017 marks the gallery’s first full year of use, and there are big plans in store to celebrate its inaugural summer.

Throughout June, July, August and September, the mobile art gallery will go to state parks throughout the St. Croix Valley for micro art exhibitions and pop-up performances. Rutledge says that these events will showcase the gallery at its very best. “It’s this beautiful, unexpected venue, and a part of ArtReach’s approach is to cultivate surprise and originality in all of our work,” she says. “The mobile art gallery feeds into that, because it’s unexpected art in a very unexpected place. I think that when somebody comes across the mobile art gallery in Afton State Park, they’ll be delighted and surprised, and they’ll get a different experience, an invitation to really pay attention to their surroundings. That’s something that art can do in the natural environment—turn on people’s senses.”

Blue Hazard, a local bluegrass band that performs all over the Midwest, will headline the pop-up performances. Rutledge says that their St. Croix Valley roots and fun, contemporary approach to music make them a perfect choice, and band members are excited to be able to show the community what the new mobile art gallery is all about.

“Music gets people’s attention, so this is a way to get people to come to these parks, learn about the arts and just create these fun events,” says Blue Hazard vocalist and guitarist Hannah Johnson. “People are going to be able to enjoy the beauty of the parks and also enjoy music that complements it.”

The first micro exhibition already has occurred, but don’t worry if you missed it—the mobile art gallery comes to Afton State Park from July 21 to 23. Bring the family, an open mind and an enthusiasm for art—but, as Johnson notes, “you won’t need to bring your headphones, because the music will already be provided.”