Hennepin Theatre Trust COVID-19 Updates

Hennepin Theatre Trust and Avivo partner to present Fantastically Dazzling, a virtual art gallery showcasing the original artwork of Minnesota artist Gary. R. Melquist

September 20, 2020

Featuring colorfully inspiring ink drawings, the online gallery lets artists share their work in the new age of social distancing

MINNEAPOLIS (Sept. 20, 2020) — Hennepin Theatre Trust, in partnership with social service agency Avivo, has launched Fantastically Dazzling: The Brilliant Colors of Gary R. Melquist, a virtual art gallery featuring more than 20 pieces of original ink marker drawings by the Minnesota artist, a participant in Avivo’s ArtWorks program. Fantastically Dazzling was originally planned as an in-person art exhibit in The Gallery at Hennepin Theatre Trust’s event center in March but was delayed due to COVID-19. In response to social distancing guidelines, The Trust and Avivo transitioned the gallery to a virtual space. The virtual gallery is online now at HennepinTheatreTrust.org and will run through this fall.

Hennepin Theatre Trust and Avivo share the beliefs that everyone deserves the chance to be heard and that vibrant, inclusive art is a tool to build community, particularly for those dealing with mental illness. Mark Nerenhausen, president and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust said, “Because of our collaboration with Avivo, we’re creating a platform for local artists who may not have the available resources to share their voices.” Avivo, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization, provides mental health services, career education and specialized programs including support for artists living with mental illness.

“Our ArtWorks program supports artists living with mental illness through the guiding principles of art therapy and arts access,” said Jes Reyes, program supervisor for Avivo ArtWorks. She explains that according to leading research by the National Endowment for the Arts, people that engage in art can enrich the quality of their lives by fostering self-esteem, enhancing social skills and creating a community in which they’re encouraged to share their artistic expressions. “Art can make change and create community and build skills; it’s more than art-making,” shares Reyes. “It helps boost confidence and combat isolation as our program participants socialize with people who can relate to their challenges.”

Nerenhausen said that the virtual gallery will bring a splash of color and connection during a unique time when such vibrancy is needed. “Fantastically Dazzling is more than art to us. It’s a means to create change, especially for artists such as Gary who benefit from the support of Avivo’s ArtWorks program so that he can share his visions of hope and resilience.”

Severe depression and isolation impacted Melquist early in his teens, having lasting effects throughout his lifetime. Nine years ago, he first explored his artistic talents at the age of 65, making it easier for him to enjoy life in a way he never thought possible. “My imagination once brought me to the brink, but now I put it into my art, turning it into something positive,” said Melquist who finds that expressing himself through art is therapeutic and contributes to his self-esteem. “Art comes from the beauty around me. I get my ideas from photos from my travels, greeting cards, post cards, calendars and scenes with animals,” noted Melquist, who also writes shorts stories and poetry, mostly related to mental health.

“It was important and necessary to find a way to honor this extraordinary artist and share his talent in a new landscape of socially distanced experiences,” said Joan Vorderbruggen, director of Hennepin Theatre District engagement for the Trust. “As cancellations began to happen because of COVID-19, we worked closely with the Avivo ArtWorks team to ensure that this project would still be realized,” Vorderbruggen said. The Trust had already transitioned many of its education programs to an online space, so reimagining an in-person art gallery experience to a virtual one was a welcome creative challenge to Vorderbruggen. “Thanks to our partners at Avivo, who have worked with us through thick and thin despite a pandemic, we’re able to present strikingly vibrant and inspiring artwork to the community.”

Avivo serves nearly 13,000 Minnesotans each year, helping them achieve recovery and career advancement while working to end homelessness. Founded in 1960, Avivo provides chemical and mental health services, housing services, career education, and employment services. Avivo specializes in helping individuals and families facing systemic barriers such as poverty, homelessness, addiction and mental health issues, achieve recovery and economic stability. Learn more at avivomn.org.

Since 2004, ArtWorks, a program of Avivo, has been supporting artists living with mental illness. Their multi-faceted art studio and programming assists individuals who are seeking space to make art, receive peer support, build skills and access larger art career resources. In addition, Avivo organizes public projects that challenge stigma and raise mental health awareness. Avivo ArtWorks has previously exhibited with Soo Visual Arts Center, Augsburg College, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Hennepin County Library and the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Meet the Artist:
Gary R. Melquist has been creating visual art since 2011 when he became a participant of the Avivo ArtWorks program. He didn’t know he had the ability to draw until he was 65-years old, first starting with pencil drawings. Since establishing himself as an artist, he has shown his work with People Incorporated, Courage Kenny, and Avivo.

Art has helped Gary enjoy life more than he ever dreamed possible. Art has been therapeutic for him. His life was impacted by severe depression and isolation, beginning in his teens, and he didn’t expect life to be so good in his elder years. Gary is a mental health advocate, having received a Stigma Buster award in 1994 from the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Minnesota. He’s also received recognition for his creative writing. Themes he explores have been mostly related to mental health, showing the range of emotions he has felt. Gary is a long-time resident of Minneapolis.

To view the virtual gallery and to learn more, please visit,

Hennepin Theatre Trust drives cultural and economic vitality in Minnesota through leadership of the dynamic Hennepin Theatre District in downtown Minneapolis and educational programming that reaches every area of the state. Its historic theatres — Orpheum, State and Pantages — and event center at 900 Hennepin Avenue light up Hennepin Avenue with top-tier entertainment, including the best of Broadway and a wide variety of arts programming. Hennepin Theatre Trust is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. Learn more at HennepinTheatreTrust.org.