Local artists come together to celebrate art and their unique perspectives.
From the outside, most would hardly give a glance to a large, gray warehouse building spanning almost a block, blending into the background of the night sky. However, if they ventured inside, they would find a vivacious group of artists from around the Twin Cities showcasing their creations. This warehouse in the Northeast Park neighborhood was the venue for the launch party of “A Conspiracy of Strange Girls,” a newly-formed local art collective.
Inside the venue, a gallery space called CO Exhibitions, the walls were maybe 30 feet high and the open space was already abundant with people. Two women, both sporting quarter-sized gauges and bright lipstick, took donations at the door and marked the arms of those under 21. On the right hand side of the space, a medium-sized stage was set up. A disco ball hung from the rafters. Hip, artsy folks chatted and mingled with beers in hand.
On the periphery of the large room, different booths were set up exhibiting the vast array of artists in the collective. Live art-making was at work. Some women were adding brushstrokes to a painting of alien-esque warrior women clad in fanciful headdresses and wielding different types of weapons. Near by, a screen printing mechanism was set up. A few women were busy printing T-shirts and sweatshirts with the slogan “Strange Girls Never Die” written in swirling typography.
Live art making was at work.
Across the room, more live art was taking place. Lauren Roberts was making customized leather key-chains and pendants. “I cut these straps out of cow leather. Now, I’m using leather stamps to create letters. I pound the stamps with this mallet so it leaves an imprint,” she said. One patron came up to her booth and exclaimed, “Oh wow! I want one of these.” She got a key-chain with the initials “C. S. G.” on it, standing for “Conspiracy of Strange Girls.”
Live, customized art was also happening at Lucie Byros and Claire Ward’s booth. The two women were making fashion drawings on the spot. Patrons could come up to their booth and the women would replicate their exact outfits in the style of high fashion sketches. “I’ve always loved drawing, but we both learned how to draw like this in school,” said Byros. Both women attended the University of Minnesota, where they discovered their love for this type of drawing.
The collective as a whole is made up of a majority of artists who identify as women, and some who identify as genderqueer and non-binary as well. The collective’s founder, Rhys Jones, has made it a priority to create a group that is very inclusive. “I think it’s really important that we create a community and a space for people who are typically marginalized,” she said. As a woman that is queer and disabled, establishing such a space has been incredibly meaningful to her. “This is a safe space for us to be ourselves.”
Hanging on the walls around the gallery space were signs that sent a message to everyone in the room. Written in Helvetica in all caps, they read: “No sexism. No racism. No ableism. No ageism. No homophobia. No fatphobia. No transphobia. No hatefulness.” For many of the people in the room that evening, the recent presidential election has been a difficult situation to confront. “Especially right now, what we are doing is so relevant,” said Jones.
“This is a safe space for us to be ourselves.”
About an hour into the launch party, live music began. A woman introducing the bands spoke passionately to the crowd, making an obvious reference to the outcome of the election. “You know what?… We’re still here. So let’s just party and be happy while we can!” she said.
Jones, who is a printmaker herself, has been hard at work creating a community of local artists. Talk to any of the artists in the room and it becomes clear that they are a part of the collective because of some sort of connection to Jones. Similarly, all of the patrons at the launch party knew one or more of the artists involved. “When I was just waiting in line to get in, I hugged three people!” said one patron. Ezra Jones, the younger sister of Rhys, understands how Rhys has been able to bring so many artists together. “It’s a real community. Rhys has made a real community” she said.
The community that Jones has assembled is both creative and strong. The launch party was scheduled months before the results of this year’s presidential election were revealed. However, the group of so-called “strange girls” and their community came together not only to celebrate their art, but to celebrate each other, and all of the unique individualities that they harbor.