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Once renovations are finished, Studio 21 will be utilized as the Grand Marais Art Colony’s “public space,” serving as an alternative or complement to the Art Colony’s current location. | SUBMITTED
Along the Shore

Former Pharmacy becomes Studio 21

The Grand Marais Art Colony is expanding. The GMAC, the longest-lived art colony in Minnesota, acquired the former North Shore Pharmacy building in downtown Grand Marais last summer and is in the process of renovating the location into a series of new work spaces.

The GMAC has a long-standing tradition of growth and community development. What began in 1947 as a simple summer refuge for artists seeking to study in an inspiring natural setting, has grown over the past 73 years into an organization that currently serves more than 25,000 people every year. The GMAC’s purchase and renovation of the former North Shore Pharmacy building is but another step along this well-established growth trajectory.

“The word I use to describe the acquisition is ‘proportional expansion’,” says Lyla Brown, executive director at the GMAC. “It’s not like we are taking on something that we can’t manage, rather it’s an expansion that is proportional to our needs.”

Prior to purchasing the North Shore Pharmacy building, the GMAC had been exploring options to expand for a number of years in order to meet its growing need for additional workspace.

“Programming under Ruth Pszwaro’s [artistic director] leadership has grown by 400 percent over the past five years,” says Brown, “and because of this we have simply outgrown our current buildings.”

According to Brown, the GMAC board had been discussing whether to buy land and do a new build or purchase an existing building when the North Shore Pharmacy building came onto the market.

“Commercial buildings rarely come onto the market in Grand Marais,” says Brown, “so when we saw that this building was for sale, right on First Ave, we jumped at the opportunity.”

Inspired by its location at 21 W Hwy 61, the GMAC has decided to call this new workspace Studio 21.

Studio 21 will help the GMAC carry out its mission of providing services to artists, promoting art education, and nurturing art within the community through an environment of creative excellence by providing the GMAC with 4,200 square feet of additional work space at a more visible, heavily visited location.

Once renovations are finished this April, Studio 21 will be utilized as the Art Colony’s “public space,” serving as an alternative or complement to the GMAC’s current location two blocks up the hill from the main thoroughfare of Highway 61. The GMAC plans to host exhibitions, offer additional classes, and rent out a semi-public studio space called The Pillbox to local artists at the new location.“Purchasing [Studio 21] has increased our work space by 60 percent,” says Brown. “It gives us a public building that can be used for exhibitions so that our other location, Founder’s Hall, can be more private, used for classes and artists at work.”

“How things are set up now,” continues Brown, “we have foot traffic with people coming in to check out the Art Colony which leads to interruptions in classes and to the artists that utilize our spaces. Given its great location, Studio 21 will not only get more foot traffic and allow us to connect with more people, but it will allow us to ensure classes and events at Founders Hall maintain flow without distractions.”

Studio 21 will be joining other creative businesses as the newest addition to what local artist Betsy Bowen describes as the “First Avenue Creative Corridor,” a reputation that the GMAC is hoping will continue to grow as the area develops.

The plan is to set up Studio 21 with a reception desk near the entrance to welcome visitors to what Brown imagines will be a “Communal Space” that it is part interactive, part informative, part exhibition.

“We want to support people here in the community who are working in the arts,” says Brown. “If all goes to plan, we will have rotating exhibits in the new space that will allow artists to show off what they do.”

“One of the ideas that our board has,” continues Brown, “is to host a holiday exhibition each year where local artists could sell their work and connect with the public. That’s not been confirmed, though, it’s just one of many ideas that we are considering.”

In addition to rotating exhibits and additional art classes, Studio 21 will also have studio space available for rent known as the The Pillbox.

Located towards the back of the building in what was formerly the pill counting area of the pharmacy, artists will be able to rent The Pillbox to use as a private work space. The Pillbox is separated from the main area by a wall, though a window with a shade for privacy that has been installed to allow visitors the opportunity to watch “art in action” should the artist choose to do so.

The Pillbox will first be available to local artists, but if no local artist expresses interest in the space than it will be made available to artists from outside Cook County.

“Ultimately,” says Brown, “the goal of Studio 21 is to provide an opportunity for people to see and engage with art and not be intimidated, and by making [the Art Colony] more readily available to the public, Studio 21 is a big step in the right direction.”

For further information on the GMAC and its plans for Studio 21, visit their website at:

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