Space to Transform

“My true love,” says Minneapolis painter Jane Elias, “is community art.” Flip through Elias’s portfolios of photos and newspaper cuttings that highlight her work, and that much is clear.

Elias has been a muralist for 25 years, bringing color and life to previously unremarkable spaces: Hospitals, daycare centers, public areas and private businesses throughout Minnesota (and even as far as California and Florida) bear the hallmarks of her work. On her own time, Elias has created community art gardens in Powderhorn and in North Minneapolis. Her latest project is unfolding in Tangletown, in the city’s southwest quadrant.

A collage of some of Jane Elias's murals

Samples of Jane Elias’s murals from a daycare center (bear, deer, bunnies) and an area business (dog under hairdryer).

Earlier in her career, Elias had a studio in Northeast Minneapolis, but after marrying and starting a family, she says Northeast wasn’t the easiest place to get to from her home in Tangletown. “There’s a lot of really great artists over here, too,” she observes.

Elias was inspired to open a studio in her own neighborhood. “I always envisaged having a lot of artists use the space with me and having a drop-in studio where people could come in and we could teach,” Elias says.

That was the basis for Simply Jane Studio and Alleyway Arts. Located near 54th and Nicollet Avenue South in Minneapolis, it’s a studio where Elias and her colleagues pursue their various art forms — including painting, illustration, ceramics, mosaics and papermaking — and they also teach classes. By autumn, Elias and her studio partners plan to establish the studio as a full artists’ co-op.

Although southwest Minneapolis is not known for loft space, Elias credits a supportive landlord for encouraging her vision for the ground-floor lease. Elias removed a retail-esque drop ceiling to expose wooden beams and a large skylight; a steel-plated, early 20th-century fire door lends the space additional industrial cred. In pastoral counterpoint to those elements, Elias painted a garden path through the center of the studio. In the alley out back, Elias plans to build an art garden and herbaceous border with a shaded deck area for extra space in summer.

The interior of Simply Jane Studio in Tangletown

The interior of Simply Jane Studio comprises industrial and idyllic elements.

“I think that sometimes studios and artists can be intimidating to the general public,” Elias says. “I’ve always felt like I’m between an artist and a designer, so I design these spaces and these environments that the general community at large feels comfortable in.”

Creating an unintimidating space was vital to Elias, especially since she and her colleagues offer classes and host open studio time for art-curious people. “I tell everybody, ‘We’re all artists, we’re all creative’,” she says. “The adults think I’m just saying that, but it’s true.”

Jerome Ryan of Minneapolis

Architect Jerome Ryan of Uptown likes to attend open studio with his kids.

The work at Simply Jane doesn’t mean Elias has no time for the broader community. She’s recently received three grants from the Tangletown Business Association to finance new murals in the neighborhood; assisting Elias will be high school-age artists who apply for mentorships with her. “I’m not an artist who has some deep, inner thing that I need to express, to communicate to the world,” Elias says. “I just like making pretty things.”

Painter Jane Elias

Why is her studio is called Simply Jane? “I have eight siblings and they all have middle names and I’m the only one who doesn’t have one,” Elias laughs. “I guess I still haven’t got over it!”

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