by Michael R. Allen
Friday marks the final First Friday opening at downtown’s Gallery Urbis Orbis. While the art scene is constantly changing in every city and there are little certainties in terms of gallery spaces, Urbis Orbis could not be confused with your ordinary art gallery. Yes, Gallery Urbis Orbis sold art. Yes, it had exhibits and openings with wine and such. But its more significant function was civic in nature.
During its run of over two years, Gallery Urbis Orbis has provided a foundation for progressive cultural life. The gallery has cleverly used the traditional opening to create a monthly night in which some of the city’s smartest people get together and chat. Ideas have been shared and big plans have been made on even the least-attended First Friday opening here. The gallery has mixed these dependable, almost salon-like evenings with other programming that falls outside of the realm of the “art gallery”: a meetup of political activists and artists; a meet-and-greet with aldermanic candidate and urbanist Steve Patterson; a memorial service for a well-loved city booster; countless planning meetings for cultural efforts large and small; and many other things. Much like the late, lamented Commonspace, Gallery Urbis Orbis served as a civic space with a citywide audience. Creating another space like it — and I do hope that someone does — will be a challenge.
Gallery co-owner and painter Alan Brunettin, whose work will be featured at this final opening, has often graced the gallery window on Tenth Street as he works on a painting. As far as I know, Alan has been the only artist to consistently work in a street-level, visible space. His presence has been encouraging to pedestrians, suggesting a liveliness that complements the solid old buildings around the space well (and draws one’s eye away from the hideous hulk of the Renaissance Grand parking garage across the street).
Alas, the gallery closes. Alan and Margie Newman, his partner and gallery co-owner, will depart for Chicago in January. Things change, of course, but this one is truly bittersweet.
We will be serving the complimentary wine, one last time, this Friday at Gallery Urbis Orbis (419 N. 10th Street) from 5:00 – 10:00 p.m. I hope the turnout is large and spirits high despite the loss, because this fine space and its creators deserve no less.