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Off-Leash Art Box is closing. But first, one last dance fest.

Jennifer Ilse and Paul Herwig with their dog Lila outside of Off-Leash Art Box.

Jennifer Ilse and Paul Herwig with their dog Lila outside of Off-Leash Art Box. Minneapolis Star Tribune

Coronavirus has claimed another small business. After two years in their brick-and-mortar space, Off-Leash Art Box will close their doors.

“We know the current situation [cannot] be sustainable for as long as the economic fallout is going [to] last,” the announcement states, “and so we believe it's the responsible thing for Off-Leash Area to close the theater, and for [artistic directors] Jennifer [Ilse] and Paul [Herwig] to sell the building as soon as possible.”

The space wasn’t just a homebase for Off-Leash productions; it was also available to rent, providing a small venue for new works, group collabs, and other unique projects. Alanna Morris-Van Tassel, formerly of TU Dance, struck out on her own on the Off-Leash stage with Yam, Potatoe an Fish!, a deeply personal piece about her Carribean heritage. Quirky shows like Dread the Halls, a horror-themed holiday cabaret, also made their way to the venue.

When Off-Leash Art Box opened two years ago, Ilse and Herwig had big plans to bring a little joy and entertainment to the Nokomis East neighborhood in south Minneapolis.

"We OWN it!” the original announcement proclaimed. “No landlords, no leases, we own our own destiny."

What they owned needed a little work, however.

“It was a dirty, stinky, just kind of cement open space,” Ilse told us in 2018.

The building, originally an auto shop, had also served as a laundromat and a video store before sitting empty for eight years. Before opening, Off-Leash made repairs to the HVAC system, plumbing, and electricity, and installed the type of sprung flooring that dance companies use.

The good news: Off-Leash will continue as a creative entity. It’s also worth noting that the group was nomadic for years before settling down in south Minneapolis. Before the Art Box, the can-do duo often turned garages and driveways into performance venues, hosted events on their self-proclaimed “micro-stage” in Longfellow, and took over other troupes’ stages for an evening.

The final event in the space will be [email protected], a local choreographers’ festival with Haus Dance that will feature indoor and outdoor stages, virtual elements, and site-specific pieces. It’s scheduled to run October 1-4.