Artist Dani Roach recalled when there was a hot new gallery coming to Minneapolis, boasting of artists from Chicago and New York.
"I remember one guy … he opened a gallery, there was huge fanfare ... and I was like 'Oh, I wonder what is gonna happen here!'" Roach said. "And then a year later, it's gone, just disappeared."
It was the '80s and the downtown Minneapolis art scene was thriving with hotspots like the Wyman Building (400 1st Av. N.), Jon Oulman's hair salon/gallery, and the Women's Art Resources of Minnesota (WARM). There also was a roving artist-run gallery in 1973 called Art Lending Gallery. It got a permanent space in 1980 and a name: Groveland Gallery, after the street it is on behind the Walker Art Center.
When artist Sally Johnson became director of Groveland in 1983, she didn't think of it as a long-term gig.
"I didn't think anything," she said. "I was 28 ... it was a cool job, and I had had a kind of crummy job, and [this one] paid $14,000 a year, which was way more than I was making at my other part-time gigs."
Johnson figured she would make art in the mornings and run the gallery the rest of the day. The gallery gig quickly took over. When she opened Groveland, she brought with her a generation of new artists, such as legendary Minnesota artist Mike Lynch, now 85 and still painting.
Forty years later she is the driving force behind Groveland Gallery, which specializes in landscape and representational painting by regional artists. The gallery has shown 390 artists and hosted 580 exhibitions.
To celebrate Groveland making it to 50, Johnson and gallery manager Andrea Bubula have organized three exhibitions, aptly titled "The Past" (on view through June 3), "The Present" and "The Future."
Johnson attributed the gallery's success to the community of artists, collectors and collaborators.
"We offered art that people wanted, and we presented it in a way that people wanted to see it and then we also just worked really hard," she said. "When business was slow, we thought of ways to get people in other than art [such as the Plein Air Smackdown]. We kept at it. We didn't overreach. I couldn't afford to go to an art fair in Miami, so I did things here that didn't cost as much money."
Past, present and future all together
Despite the chronological exhibition titles, time is somewhat arbitrary at Groveland.
Roach is in "The Past" section and Carol Lee Chase is in "The Future," but both joined the gallery in the mid-1980s. For the future section, emerging artists are paired with current Groveland artists.
"I think a lot of the artists that show there are pretty loyal to the gallery," Chase said. "Look, to know you are in the rotation for a solo show every two or three years, that's pretty awesome, right?"
Chase thinks that Groveland's domestic setting in a historic mansion built in 1894 is also key, because it gives people a chance to see how art can work in their home instead of a white cube.
Brian Szott, former senior art curator at the Minnesota Historical Society, has known Johnson since the early 1990s.
"Galleries, by their nature, come and go, and a gallery run by a woman for 40 of the 50 years of the gallery is definitely unique in the Twin Cities," Szott said. "We think of Groveland Gallery along with all the nonprofits who have endowments and all sorts of funds to keep them going, but she's a for-profit business, and yet she has the sort of staying presence that many nonprofits have."
Groveland Gallery and Johnson inspired gallerist Martin Weinstein, who opened Weinstein Gallery in 1996, renamed Weinstein Hammons Gallery in 2017.
"It's the hard work she has put in for so many years, the fact that she represents so many very talented artists and has been true to her vision of what their gallery does," Weinstein said.
So what's next after 50 years?
"We have every intention of continuing this, so I might take a backseat to Andrea at some point," Johnson said.
"Everybody's heard me say it, but imagine a more fun way to have a life, like 40 years of doing this. Artists are super interesting, but mostly they're smart and interesting and fun to be around."
Groveland Gallery's 50th Anniversary Exhibition Series
When: "Past" ends June 3, "Present," June 10-July 15, opening reception June 10 from 2-5 p.m., "Future," July 22-Aug. 19, opening reception July 22 from 2-5 p.m. For related events, check grovelandgallery.com.
Where: 25 Groveland Terrace, Mpls.
Info: grovelandgallery.com or 612-377-7800.