25 Days of Art: The replacement of vacancy with attention

Pop-ups are all the rage… you could say pop-ups are popping up all over! If you are not familiar with these transformative places, they are temporary stores, restaurants or spaces that open, then impact or sell as much as possible in a short amount of time…could be one day, one week, one month.

We took that simple retail paradigm and turned it on its head, where holiday sales weren’t the ultimate goal, but rather, turning a dark, vacant property into a bustling regional art gallery and store.

Sitting vacant and sandwiched between two businesses was one of Red Wing’s truly prime properties; a large, late 1800’s four story building. It had closed months ago after a short live business closed.

Left behind were aisles and aisles of dry goods, store supplies, office supplies, refrigeration units, kitchen utensils and equipment, food bins and loads of other left behind items. Walls were painted yellow and pea green. Fluorescent lighting was above head. It was, in short, five thousand square feet of opportunity!

Red Wing Pop-Up Art Gallery: Before Photo

The space presented itself as ideal for art…especially with large moveable panels that could fit as many artists as wanted. So the process to find artists began; reconning art shows, following leads visiting studios, phone calls, emails. There was a lot of interest, very few declined an invitation to be part of an unprecedented effort to push artists forward…especially when the commission was quite favorable to them!

With a mission to progressively and tangibly revitalize Red Wing’s three historic districts, a rare opportunity to meld art, real estate and mission fulfillment was about to take place. Presenting the idea to the organization’s business development committee, it was agreed that the idea needed to come to fruition in just three weeks…three weeks! That quick timeline was proposed to take advantage of the high fall season visitor traffic.

So, how do you get a vacant, painted-green place turned over into a gallery in short order? Call in community and committee volunteers. Negotiate with the property owner (for a very reasonable rate). Push everything back in the old store, haul up huge moveable panels to fit our needs like a glove and paint walls white. Find and schedule volunteers to man the space over a three month period. Bring in additional display shelving, buy company tablet to operate credit cards and switch out all lighting to canister halogens. Contact, coordinate and constantly communicate with artists. Sign contracts, intake work and take three days to hang the gallery.

Red Wing Pop-Up Art Gallery

Concurrently, our window dressings were being created: an intensive art process in its own. The end result consisted of two incredible eye catching designs– a large scale, sprawling Tiffany-esque scene of trees and fall leaves and a 6’ tall, art deco, glass faced word that read ‘ART.’ This stood inside the large front window, glimmering and telling a story in three letters. As artists hand painted the outside tiffany dressing, pedestrians would stop and ogle….it was a beautiful, evolving, live art exhibition!

Lastly, on large red letter we told the story of this transformation:


We opened on schedule: 27 regional artists and craftspeople: ceramicists, painters, rag rug makers, sculptors, wool mitten makers, designer bags, mixed media and found object work, photography, wood –cut prints, and watercolors, beaded birds, books, handmade toys and knitted sweaters. Our slogan was spread widely; ‘ART: The replacement of vacancy with attention.’ Perfect.

Red Wing Pop-Up Art Gallery

It was also important to tell our story in short storyboards, that this wasn’t simply a mod pop up intent on holiday sales. We explained who Downtown Main Street is, what a pop up is, why we were doing this and what could happen after it closed December 21. These story boards really helped visitors while also enriching their experience…it slowed people down where they would look at the walls and ceilings and overall space in a new light.

Based on a consignment sales model, sales were not a priority for the program. With that said, sales were good; we knew that some work would not sell but that visitors would walk away with a memorable, unique retail experience, a unique art and crafts experience.

What made this initiative so powerful and so effective was that while we were open only 25 days, we had a presence for three months. Meaning, everyday, hundreds of people walked by or saw this reimagined space. It was a consistent, on-going campaign…not a one day event. Everyday the space lit up the block, every week the open sign was out. In those 25 days, the opening had 300 people and we estimate three thousand people walked through the doors.

So, we helped a property owner, a city block, our City, 27 artists and tested the viability of a long term regional arts gallery. Red Wing Downtown Main Street got incredible exposure as well. It was an outside the box idea – one that took a hip, urban idea and turned it on its head to go far beyond the ring of the register.