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​Airport Art at MSP: Ben Owen Interview

Arts | October 14th, 2023

By Jacinta Zens 

jacinta.zens@gmail.com

Airports have become increasingly popular art and music venues over the last decade. from Amsterdam's Schiphol International Airport to Chicago's O'Hair to Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport (MSP), music and art flourish amongst the hustle and bustle of travelers.

Showcasing the arts in airports allows artists and performers to get an audience of thousands of international travelers daily, and people en route can be exposed to new artists and arts experiences. I have spent many hours in the MSP airport and have grown to love any extra time to check out their permanent and rotating art exhibitions and attend performances.

As an artist and arts administrator, I had always been curious about how the arts were managed at such a large facility, as the task seemed daunting. Organizing it all looks almost impossible with multiple rotating exhibits, permanent art installations, over 900 music performances a year, and procuring new art for the permanent collection.

I wanted to learn more about the program and how artists can get involved, so I contacted Ben Owen, Director of the Arts and Culture Program at MSP, to chat.

High Plains Reader: Hello, Ben. Thanks for the interview. I have so many questions. Can you please start by giving an overview of the MSP Arts and Culture Program?

Ben Owen: It is great to talk to you. So, the MSP Arts and Culture Program was created by the nonprofit Airport Foundation MSP and developed in partnership with the airport's governing body, the Metropolitan Airports Commission. We host over 1,000 performances a year and have rotating art exhibits. We also commission permanent art pieces for the airport. For example, we have over 20 permanent mosaic works throughout the complex.

HPR: Do you work with Minneapolis/St. Paul artists only, or do you work with artists throughout the state?

BO: We work with artists from all over the Midwest and beyond.An excellent project we recently worked on paired an artist from Minneapolis with a video producer from France to create a piece for the video wall.We also recently worked with Minnesota artist Anne Labovitz and a fabricator to create works that are 25 x 180 feet in size. It is incredible to see them in person. We have various resources to help artists adapt their work for our space. It is always fun for the artists and us to see the projects go from start to finish.

HPR: Does your curatorial team reach out to the artists and performers for your rotating exhibits and performances, or do you choose from submissions?

BO: We have an open Request for Exhibition Proposal process and review them frequently. There are multiple exhibition spaces, so artists have several options.

HPR: What types of spaces do you have?

BO: There are so many spaces that it will be easier to send you the information rather than talk about them.

At this point, we took a break so that I could read through the information about the gallery spaces. Here is the information about the exhibition areas that I received from Ben.

Terminal 1 Exhibition Spaces

  1. Gallery C1: 5’9.5” H x 5’4” W x 8.5” D
  2. Gallery C6: 5’10” H x 10’8” W x 10” D
  3. Gallery E4: 5’10” H x 13’4” W x 9.75” D
  4. Gallery E8: 5’9” H x 11’8” W x 9.75” D (with audio)
  5. Gallery F4: 5’10” H x 13’4” W x 2’3” D (includes two display areas; 4’10” W and 7’5” W)
  6. Gallery F10: 5’9” H x 12’6” W x 6.25” D (with audio)
  7. Departures Gallery: 5’10” H x 5’4” W x 1'10” D
  8. North Mall Gallery: 5’10” H x 5’4” W x 8.5” D (with audio)
  9. South Mall Gallery: 5’10” H x 10’8” W x 8.5” D
  10. Airport Mall Gallery: 6’8” H x 16’ W x 2’2” D (two cases)
  11. SEE18 Gallery: Four double-sided walls, approximately 251.67 ft. sq. total display area
  12. C Concourse Art Gallery: 8’2” H x 16’2” W x 2’6” D (four cases), 9’3” H x 36’9” W x 3’11” D (one case)
  13. Conference Center Gallery: Four walls, approximately 846 ft. sq. total display area
  14. G Colonnade Gallery: 7’ H x 3’5.5” W x 6.5” D (16 cases)

Terminal 2 Exhibition Spaces

  1. Mila Walls®: Approximately 575 ft. sq. total display area
  2. Gallery H11: 18' W x 5’9” H x 1’6” D

Signature Exhibition Spaces

  1. Terminal 1 B Tunnel Projection Gallery: Eight display surfaces, each 18' W x 5'7" H
  2. Terminal 1 Ground Transportation Center, Tram Level: 16' H x 32' W
  3. Terminal 2 Ticketing Lobby: Four walls, each 28' W x 28' H

HPR: With rotating exhibits, permanent installations, and over a thousand performances a year, how do you keep track of everything? I can't imagine the headache of making it all run as planned.

BO: I am fortunate to have an excellent team supporting me. Thankful.

HPR: Good to hear. You said earlier that you are always open to receiving a request for an exhibit proposal. Are you more interested in showing one type of art rather than another?

BO: We are open to hearing from any artist or performer that wants to work with us. We have exhibited everything from traditional quilts to showcasing digital imagery in a super modern projection gallery and everything in between. So, all artists are welcome to connect with us. We welcome them to do so.

HPR: Where can people find more information about your programs and how to connect with you?

BO: The best way to connect with us and learn about our programs is at https://airportfoundationmsp.submittable.com/submit.

We also have a roster of artists we prequalify for public art opportunities at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP). You can find information about that program on the site I just gave you.

HPR: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk. I learned so much about your program.



















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