Nick Early settles into a couch in the commons area of Seagrave Studios, a shared workspace for artists in the basement beneath the Red Raven Espresso Parlor here. He slides down, relaxed, and puts his hands behind his head as though he was made for this place.
In a low, steady voice, the digital media artist says exactly what his posture shows:
“I feel like it’s kind of a safe house,” he says. “I always refer to it as ‘The Oasis’ although, generally, I refer to the (Red Raven) courtyard as the primary oasis, but this entire building has the essence of a shelter for the weird and creative.”
That weird, creative energy permeates the large, low-ceilinged area sectioned off into eight-foot square work bays available to rent for $80 a month.
An old organ sits in a corner. The sink is full of mugs from the coffee shop upstairs. Books from the likes of R. Buckminster Fuller and William Blake are right at home next to shelves of various art supplies, music synthesizers, high-powered computers and a dark room. It’s a bit messy, but not slovenly. Every nook and cranny is either transformed through creative acts or is making way for those acts to happen.
Austin Marts, who puts the dark room to the most use for his medium-format film photography, echoes Early’s affection for the space. The Minnesota State University Moorhead student says he had a tough time making friends in high school and college but began to feel right at home when he became part of Seagrave.
“As soon as I came down here, I made friends instantly. All these people allowed me into their circle, and I may be irritating sometimes, but I know they love me deep down inside,” Marts says.
Seagrave manager Yvonne Gunderson nods and agrees, adding that the studios allow their occupants to resourcefully explore their creative impulses in a supportive atmosphere.
“A lot of kids who are innately artistic, they don’t even need anything. And they don’t need somebody standing there saying, ‘You put the tree in the wrong place,’ or ‘The sky shouldn’t be orange,’ ” she says, and the nature of the work being done here shows it.
Each artist is working in some combination of painting, sculpture, photography, music, and digital media.
Painter Mark Gaviglio, who generally paints on found wood, also likes the ready access to people, either in the studio or in the Red Raven, who will give him an unvarnished opinion.
“I’m used to critique. I’m used to, halfway through my painting, having somebody tells me it looks like crap so I can paint over it. Some of the good feel of this place comes from having people constantly here to help me with that,” Gaviglio says.
“Even if they hate my art,” he adds, laughing.
Moving into Seagrave gave him a boost of creative steam, Gaviglio says, and a number of his paintings are on display on the walls of the Red Raven.
Gunderson admits the space isn’t for everyone, and artists in Fargo looking for amenities like dependable Wi-Fi or natural light might want to consider other options.
She also says there have been ups and downs, with the studio often teetering on shaky financial footing, but she’s doing her best to provide a steady hand at the wheel (she says an artist refers to her as their “benevolent dictator”), boost their numbers and help sustain the co-ownership model of the entire building.
And when times get tough, the collective of artists bands together to keep the place afloat.
“We’ve had spells where there was a person who couldn’t pay rent, but one person steps up and says ‘I’ll pay double rent,’ ” Gaviglio says, “I’ve done that twice. But, I could pay as much as I want for this place. I will always give an arm and a leg to keep this place alive because I need this place. It’s done more for me than I’ve ever done for it.”
“We don’t expect people to come in with that ideology, but I really think the space does things to people,” Marts says. “I think there’s a magic down here that allows people to grow and to learn to respect each other. It’s like a dysfunctional family learning to work with each other. We learn to work around hardships. We’re all friends and we’re all down here to work and be a community.”
This article is part of a content partnership with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and originally appeared in the Monday, May 19, 2014 issue of the paper.
All photos by the author.