In a city where it is easier to find a brewery than it is to find a parking spot, sitting on the southeast side of the city in an abandoned insurance market complex is an interactive art museum and music venue known as The Healer. It’s a place where you can head bang to a punk rock show while playing guitar hero one night and then play a game of chess in a soundproofed shrine the next. A truly one of a kind space.
I got to sit down with Healer art director, Matt Panfil and Healer music coordinator, Ben Sutphin to learn a little bit about their journey and how it all started.
Jacob Moran: Healer really is one of a kind. The second you walk in you know it’s something special. How did the idea start?
Ben Sutphin: The idea really evolved through time. I had a band and we would practice here. We always talked about wanting to throw a show. Collin Oakley, the other founder, decided we should do that. We brought Matt in to decorate for that show. It was such a success that we decided to start throwing more shows. With each show Matt would come in and decorate more and before we knew it we had an art museum and music venue in one.
Matt Panfil: Yeah, I was making these art installations in college, but they were very temporary. I would have to tear them down eventually. I made this installation with a friend where we covered the ground of an old storage room with grass and moss. It turned into a temple with these floating skulls that my friend made. It was very earthy and it really convinced me that it was what I wanted to do for a living. Once Ben and Collin asked me to come in and decorate, it just organically grew from there.
JM: You guys put on a wide variety of shows. Every genre seems to be represented here at Healer. Was that intentional?
BS: In my opinion, people are well past the point of listening to only one genre. I have always listened to many genres of music. The internet has really opened that up. It just made sense to me, because I listen to all of it. I really wouldn’t know any other way to do it. It’s just another way for us to show that everyone is welcome here.
JM: I remember coming to Healer in the first couple months of it opening. There is so much new art. How do you decide what is Healer worthy art?
MP: I am pretty open to most forms and pieces of art. I love the idea of salvaging and scavenging. Finding abandoned art pieces at thrift stores that are gathering dust or broken things has always been the framework of all my art. The idea of refocusing art to create a new beauty from it has always been very important to me. We have three walls here for guest artists and I love having a diverse range of art styles, similar to how Collin and Ben handle music. There are no boundaries to art here at Healer.
JM: Healer is so welcoming. You come here and see people of all different backgrounds. Did you try and make a place like that or did it just naturally happen?
BS: It’s great to hear that people find it so welcoming, because that is the core of what we’re trying to do here at Healer. Everything here is so unexpected and it gives you the opportunity to let go of expectations you may place on yourself. I feel that when you set those expectations free you open yourself to different experiences and you interact with people of all different backgrounds that you may not always have the opportunity to.
JM: My favorite installation is the 90’s room. You’ve managed to mash every 90’s kids room together and keep it completely gender neutral and so welcoming. How did this room come together?
MP: Like most things here, it came together really organically. Band members who had children would bring them to the shows. I had a PlayStation 2 and a Super Nintendo that I wasn’t using along with some bean bag chairs and other 90’s stuff just lying around. I set all of that up in the room for the children to have something to do while their parents played shows. After realizing how much children and adults enjoyed it I decided to make it another installation and really go over the top with it. Posters, stuffed animals and old TVs. My goal was to make a room that was the idle slumber party room.
JM: Healer is so unbelievably unique. When you come for the first time, you leave and tell everyone about it. It is so unbelievably unique and organic and you can tell right when you step in.
BS: That is exactly what we want to offer people!
JM: How would you describe Healer?
BS: Healer is an idea that a collective of well meaning people can create their own home. A place where everybody belongs and all ideas are exciting.
MP: Healer to me is an immersive, somewhat magical and explorative experience. Something you can enter and feel that you are in a radically different environment from which you came.
JM: What’s going on at Healer these days?
MP: We are currently having a 50 person capacity shows in our new outdoor installation called the Mad Max Katz art park. We plan to have as many shows as possible weather permitting. Eventually I would like to recreate Healer in virtual reality.