Maximum occupancy

The year 2008 was a busy one for Altered Esthetics. We were growing, our new board model was taking root, and our partnership opportunities were increasing. We were approached by two past artists, Ellen Mueller and Tonja Torgerson, about curating a guest exhibit. They were hoping to find a space to host their Anxiety Dreams exhibition. While our 2008 schedule for the main gallery was already set, we were able to work with them to host their exhibition in the Q1 gallery— the shared gallery space in the center of the first floor of the Q.arma building. The show would be held simultaneously with the Bitter Fruits exhibit, for which artists were asked to take a look at the portrayal of women in art as objects rather than protagonists.


As February loomed closer, works for the Bitter Fruits exhibit were pouring in. Before we knew it, we had works from over one hundred artists submitted—many of which were compelling and excellently executed. We wanted to accommodate more art than usual, but even hanging salon-style there was a limit to how much we could fit in the gallery space without saturating and crowding the artwork. We felt bad asking but emailed the curators for Anxiety Dreams to see how much wiggle room they had in their space and if they would be able to shift their exhibit to the upstairs Q2 gallery. We got a quick and decided response— they had curated works specifically for the space they were allotted, including an installation in the alcove area. Next idea! A solution presented itself as two spaces became vacant upstairs. The building owner, Jono, allowed us to use them for the month, and we extended our gallery for our largest exhibit yet.

The Bitter Fruits exhibit opened with eighty-eight artists displaying over two hundred works of art, taking over our gallery space, two rooms upstairs, and the Q2 second-floor common gallery as well. Anxiety Dreams opened up on the same evening as planned, a phenomenally curated exhibition featuring works from nine artists, including a lively performance piece from Ellen Mueller that remains one of my favorite Altered Esthetics moments of all time: Nor Any Drop to Drink.

In a surreal reenactment of a dreamlike work scene, the protagonist works her job as a ticket taker, engaged with callers in between solo dances and dance sequences. The callers, increasingly hostile, bookend her personal performances until the villain (her boss) enters the scene. A stream of verbal abuse is ended only when the boss dumps ice water on the protagonist, who, after stunned silence, continues dancing—finally free once again.


Thousands of guests over the course of the day packed in upstairs and downstairs for the opening reception and crowded around Ellen’s performance. It was a beautiful event. Hindsight being 20/20, I felt bad that we even considered asking our guest curators about the possibility of shifting spaces. I’m glad they wanted to stay in their original space and felt comfortable saying exactly so. These days I’ve learned to be more mindful of implicit power dynamics, especially in curatorial and shared spaces.


This post is adapted from It’s Never Going To Work: A Tale of Art and Nonprofits in the Minneapolis Community. Book includes illustrations by Athena Currier©2019 Jamie Schumacher.

It’s Never Going To Work is a light-hearted, illustrated book that offers real-life insights on founding a community space and nonprofit. It provides tools, tips, resources, and camaraderie to community organizers and anybody attempting something new.