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Alternative art gallery culture grows downtown

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Janie Boschma

It’s Thursday night; live music is streaming out of an open door. Groups of people stand inside, staring at the walls, munching on cheese and crackers. A local artist is discussing his work with an interested group of spectators, all of whom have paid less than $20 to attend.

Events like this are becoming popular around downtown Eau Claire, according to Drew Seveland, co-owner of Infinitea Teahouse, 112 E. Grand Ave.

“More than anything else, downtown is trying to change in general, to incorporate more arts and culture, because that’s kind of our niche,” he said.

The teahouse features a new artist each month with a casual opening reception. It’s a good chance to get to meet the artist and get their opinions on their art, Seveland said.

Tangled Up In Hue, 416 S. Barstow St., also hosts openings, sometimes on the same evenings as Infinitea. While also featuring live music, they boast live glass blowing, co-owner Jamie Kyser said.

The Acoustic Café, just blocks away at 505 S. Barstow St., features wall art as well, changing displays every six weeks. The two venues have similar practices when displaying the art. Artists are allowed to post prices, but the businesses do not take a commission.

“It’s a win-win situation. We get to have the artwork on our wall change every six weeks and they get to have their artwork on display,” said Acoustic Café manager Sandy Hartmann.

For the most part, local artists who approach the owners are featured at these venues. There are generally no set criteria for the art other than that the pieces fit the overall feel of the place, venue owners agreed.

Because many of the venues are small, exhibits are generally two-dimensional art, Kyser said, though some exceptions have been made.

A few of the business owners in the area have begun talking about setting up a monthly “art crawl,” which will likely be the first Thursday of every month, Seveland said. The idea emerged when they realized many of them were having openings on the same night. He hopes the suggestion will catch on now that students are back in town.

Other low-budget options for the avid art viewer include the Foster Gallery, Haas Fine Arts Center 104, as well as the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center, 316 Eau Claire St., and The Heyde Center for the Arts, 3 N. High St., Chippewa Falls. The Harmony Corner Café, which will be opening at 210 S. Barstow St. soon, will also feature art.

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Alternative art gallery culture grows downtown