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Can Can Wonderland: Amusements Galore in MN's First Arts-Based Public Benefit Corp

What do a tornado, a Ferris wheel, and your grandma’s basement all have in common? At Can Can Wonderland’s quirky and whimsical mini golf course, these are all themes to different golf holes. The best part? The holes are all designed and created by local artists.
 
Arriving at Can Can Wonderland feels a little like stepping into Willy Wonka’s Factory—only with more of a speakeasy vibe. Once you pull up to an old canning warehouse in St. Paul’s Hamline Midway neighborhood, you first enter through a big, red door. After following arrows down a secret stairwell, you arrive at a landing with two doors labeled as fire escapes. Don’t be fooled by the signage. Once you open the door, Can Can Wonderland appears and you step into a long, light-infused warehouse stretching about a quarter mile from end to end.
 
While the 18-hole mini-golf course is at the heart of the experience, there are also many other amusements to entertain the young and the young-at-heart. In the bar area, craft cocktail connoisseurs, Bittercube, provide the imaginative drink menu where you’ll find everything from spiked slushies to tasteful tikis. If you’re hungry, chow down on the selection of sweet and savory noshes such as hot dogs, mini donuts or cotton candy. Not in the mood for mini golf? Explore the boardwalk of attractions, filled with vintage pinball and arcade games. There is also a black box theater that hosts a variety show every Thursday night.
 
“We have a house band and music acts,” explains Jennifer Pennington, CEO, Can Can Wonderland. “You never know who the acts are going to be ahead of time. Last week we had a sitar player, a drone demonstration, a guy playing the tuba with a black light shining on him and an amazing juggling duo.”
 
Can Can Wonderland was first imagined in 2008 after Pennington’s husband, Chris, designed a golf hole for the Walker Art Center’s artist-designed mini golf. Their friend, Kristy Atkinson, who is also Can Can’s artistic director and co-partner, was one of the original minds behind the Walker’s artist golf. Working on the project together, they all realized they had a good thing going.
 
“It was so fun that we wondered why we didn't do this all the time,” says Pennington. “Then it was like, how can we make a business that is self-funded and free from being reliant on grants? We really started to take the concept seriously in 2010 when we moved to St. Paul and it developed from there.”
 
Fast forward several years. The Penningtons and Atkinson partnered with their commercial real estate broker, Rob Clapp, to become co-founders of Can Can Wonderland. They then looked to the community to help bring the space to life as the first arts-based public benefit corporation in Minnesota.
 
They had a call for artists, which received over 200 submissions, including entries from students whose teachers incorporated the project as part of their course curriculum. Two of the students’ submissions even made it into the final golf course.
 
After a successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign and hours of planning, design, and coordination, the amusement space is now officially open to the public. Go grab a slushie and get your golf on.
 

"Spirit: Made Here" Is Initiative's Latest Installation in Downtown Minneapolis Storefronts

The Hennepin Theatre Trust recently launched the seventh season of its window art installation series, Spirit: Made Here. Consisting of more than 30 window displays filling empty storefronts and commercial spaces in downtown Minneapolis, the project’s installations include an array of art mediums including painting, paper sculpting, photography, fiber art, three-dimensional mixed media, video and an interactive light show. The window art is on display in a six-block stretch between 6th Street and 10th Street from Hennepin Avenue to Marquette Avenue.
 
Founded in 2013, Made Here is the brainchild of the Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Cultural District Arts Coordinator, Joan Vorderbruggen. Working with the program’s panel, building owners, artists and the community, Vorderbruggen and her team curate and create a walkable, interactive showcase of emerging artists. “We are proud that we often times give opportunities to artists who may have never exhibited before,” says Vorderbruggen.
 
Made Here also focuses on bringing art to new and unexpected audiences, and increasing the public’s awareness of downtown Minneapolis as a cultural destination. Additionally, it seeks to create a downtown that is representative of people from diverse cultures and backgrounds.
 
On average, 40 percent of Made Here’s artists come from communities of color, with balanced gender representation. “Our panel is diverse, and actively networks in order to authentically invite different community members to participate,” Vorderbruggen explains. “A great secret to our success is having that big, diverse group.”
 
In this installment of Made Here, more than 75 Minnesota artists and students created art interpreting the theme of spirit. “Spirit: Made Here is filled with light, puppetry, images, projections, social justice and environmental justice,” says Vorderbruggen. “I'm really pleased that Made Here is a function of the community that it serves. When you think about downtown, it’s for everyone. We're all here. It's ours and we all share it.”
 
Spirit: Made Here is on display now through March 30, 2017. View an interactive walking tour map from Made Here’s website.
 
 
 
 

612 Sauna Society first sauna cooperative in the U.S.

In 2013, John Pederson built the Firehouse Sauna, a mobile trailer-sized sauna that quickly moved from a personal project to something he shared with friends. It grew into the 612 Sauna Society, which will soon become the first sauna cooperative in the country.

Now registered as a 308B cooperative business, the group just completed a crowdfunding campaign to build a new sauna that will officially launch the new format. A team of 40 volunteers will build the facility and then launch the coop with a February residency in the courtyard at Surly Brewing Company.

The Society’s mission is to improve dialogue and community, bringing sauna to the people in the spirit of traditional Finnish culture, where saunas are a gathering spot for relaxation and rumination. Sometimes 612 will park at a brewery, other times at a public or commercial setting like Como Park or IKEA.

“The thing we do is put [the sauna] on wheels and take it to different locations,” explains Teke O’Reilly, 612’s campaign manager. Mobility brings sauna culture to all walks of life, and it presents an element of intrigue that further attracts people, he explains.

Last year 612 Society teamed with the mobile Little Box Sauna, hitting locations in St. Paul, Minneapolis and Bloomington. “[Little Box Sauna] kind of melded with 612 Sauna Society,” O’Reilly explains. “That brought people out of the woodwork so we knew we have a powerful community,” he says. Little Box Sauna is a separate entity from the Society, which is why 612 is building a new unit this winter.

“The objective is to make as much sauna as possible available for as many people as we can,” O’Reilly says. Though he’s been involved with the project since its early days with Pederson and other volunteers, the group is excited to turn 612 over to the member-owners.

612 Sauna Society has big plans for the future, rooted in the Scandinavian deep thought tradition. The group has spoken with the Minneapolis Parks Foundation about using the parks as a setting where disparate organizations can come together and relax, uniting in the cozy confines of a 150- to 180-degree sauna and talking about life and, perhaps, politics while relaxing together in a distinctly north country way. It’s only in the idea phase at present, but O’Reilly teems with excitement at the thought.

“The reality of that happening is almost profound,” he exclaims. “If we can truly find solutions to these difficult times that we live in through sauna, to me that gives me goosebumps.”

The new trailer will be roughly the size of a medium RV trailer and is open to the public by reservation. Coop members will pay a discount price, comparable to a grocery coop, but anyone can use the unit by making an advance reservation online due to limited space.
 
 
 
 

Small Park, Huge Impact: Rondo's Commemorative Plaza Under Construction

Since the construction of Interstate 94 in the 1960s tore apart St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood and destroyed his childhood home, Marvin Anderson has worked to make sure the heart and spirit of Rondo lives on. As one of the co-founders of St. Paul’s annual Rondo Days, and a board director of Rondo Avenue, Inc., Anderson has made it his mission to help others remember and revive the spirit of Rondo. “Happiness is the ability to give back to your community and make your community better than when you found it. That’s the key to me. That’s the key to Rondo,” Anderson says.
 
Anderson is currently spearheading a project to bring the Rondo Commemorative Plaza to life. Located at 820 Concordia Avenue, the plaza is intended to facilitate reflection, connection, conversation and community. “It’s a living reminder of living in a village of Rondo, and it’s bursting to find creative expressions of old Rondo and new Rondo in a space that’s ours,” he explains.
 
The plaza, which celebrated its groundbreaking in October, will be a pocket park located in a lot where old Rondo’s last two-story building was constructed in 1917. After that building burned down in 2013, Anderson organized an uplifting community funeral where residents came together and celebrated their memories of the place. During the celebration, the idea came to Anderson to create a gathering space in the vacant lot of the old building, which would commemorate the old Rondo neighborhood.
 
“I said, ‘We’re going to build something on this site,’” Anderson recalls. “‘We’re going to create something here in memory of the building, but also in memory of Rondo.’”
 
The plan for the space includes a promenade of steps, a built-in sound system, green spaces with benches, a 30-foot tall marker that can be seen from Interstate 94, and panels and exhibits showcasing the history of Rondo. Future neighborhood events are also planned for the space, including concerts, spoken word performances and events for children.
 
“We want to show people you can do something with something small and have a huge impact on your community,” Anderson says. “I got so much from Rondo. Rondo gave me the foundation to do what I accomplished in life and when I came back home after traveling for school, I felt that it was important that I become a part of this community—and what could I do? It was to bring this joy of Rondo to others.”
 
The space will hopefully be completed in Fall 2017. Follow along on the progress of the Rondo Commemorative Plaza on the organization’s Facebook and Twitter pages.
 
 
 

St. Paul Tool Library Will Contribute to Sharing Economy

St. Paul is soon getting a new type of library—one that includes power drills, wrenches and lawn mowers. The St. Paul Tool Library will be the newest branch of the Northeast Minneapolis Tool Library, a nonprofit where members can check out tools for home repairs and projects. The new St. Paul location at 755 Prior Avenue N., in the Midway neighborhood, is slated to open late 2016 or early 2017.
 
The idea for a new library branch location came about earlier this year when St. Paul resident John Bailey contacted the Northeast Minneapolis Tool Library to express his interest in bringing the nonprofit to his city. Bailey, who is now the chair of the St. Paul Tool Library Local Advisory Board, says the library is a good fit for the area. “I have known about tool libraries for a long time and they make so much sense,” Bailey says. “It seemed crazy that St. Paul didn't have one.”
 
Zachary Wefel, president of the Northeast Minneapolis Tool Library agrees: “In our strategic plan, we did say we eventually wanted to open multiple branches. So when a few people from St. Paul contacted us and said, ‘We’re interested in doing this,’ we met with them and determined it would be a really great fit.”
 
With the support of the Northeast Minneapolis Tool Library and a successful crowdfunding campaign, Bailey and his supporters raised the funds needed to make the St. Paul Tool Library a reality. Once the new lease on the space is finalized, the tool library will host a tool drive to fill the new space with inventory.
 
With the growth of the sharing economy, the tool library is a natural fit for those who want to work on home projects, but don’t necessarily want or need to buy power tools to keep around the house. “I think for many people in St. Paul, [the tool library] can help them save money by buying less tools,” Bailey says, “and as importantly, teach new skills.”
 
Tool library membership are $55 per year, which gives members unlimited tool checkouts as well as discounts on studio classes. The Northeast Minneapolis Tool Library is currently accepting membership applications in person at their location inside the Thorp Building. Members will be able to use the libraries at both locations.
 
 
 

Red Lake Band Plans Mixed-Use Affordable Housing Project

 
The American Indian Cultural Corridor in Minneapolis, home to the largest population of urban American Indian people in Minnesota, continues its ongoing redevelopment into an area of cultural pride and community cohesion with a new proposed mixed-used housing development. The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians recently purchased a 37,367-square-foot parcel on Cedar Avenue, formerly occupied by Amble Hardware. The project will be called Mino-bimaadiziwin, Ojibwe for “living the good life.”
 
The site is “in the heart of the American Indian community” and located adjacent to a Blue Line light-rail station, explains Sam Strong of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians. Plans include demolishing the existing, blighted structures, and developing the site into a mixed-use property with approximately 115 units of affordable rental housing. The project would also include a healthcare clinic and a variety of social service programs for tribal members, and the Red Lake Band’s Minneapolis Embassy.
  
The Minneapolis-based Cuningham Group is the designing the project. “While nothing has been finalized on the design side, we are interested in making this a sustainable green project and are looking into our options,” says Strong.
 
About 2,100 Red Lake Band members plus their descendants live in the Twin Cities area. “We are excited to build a strong, healthy affordable housing community for Native Americans in this culturally significant area that will not only benefit our own tribal members, but also the entire Minneapolis community and Seward neighborhood,” said Darrell G. Seki, Sr., Chair of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, in a prepared statement.
 
The Red Lake Band has long been a leader among Indian Tribes and has been at the forefront of numerous initiatives in Indian Country. Mino-bimaadiziwin, a new urban mixed-use project “is important as an investment in our community,” Strong says, “and will help meet the ongoing housing, health and other service needs of our people.”
 
 

Little Mekong Night Market Expands to Include Artwalk and Kids Activities

 
Little Mekong Night Market, a project of the Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA) in St. Paul, just keeps gaining momentum. This year, the summer festival (Saturday and Sunday, July 23 and 24) takes place at the proposed Little Mekong Plaza on Western Avenue to bring in more vendors and artists. The market also includes an artwalk showcasing the exhibition “MANIFEST: Refugee Roots” inside the recently opened Western U Plaza—a community-driven, transit-oriented development. Get your Green Line light-rail pass here.
 
The exhibition will feature local artists and cultural groups, including Koua Mai Yang, Ifrah Mansour, the Somali Museum, the Immigrant History Research Center and an art mandala by monks of the Gyuto Wheel of Dharma Monastery. This year’s market includes another new feature: a kid-zone with interactive exhibits from the Minnesota Children’s Museum, Mobile Comedy Suitcase and sParkit Lantern Making. Three stages throughout the market will showcase performances by Hmong artists, such as LOTT, Jayanthi Kyle, Mu Daiko and Mayda.
 
For those new to the area, “Little Mekong is the Asian business and cultural district in Saint Paul, Minnesota,” according to Little Mekong’s website. “Located between Mackubin and Galtier streets along University Avenue, the district boasts a diversity of cultures, top rated restaurants and unique shopping experiences. Visitors come to Little Mekong to experience the unique culture and flavors of Southeast Asia.”
 
 

Affordable Housing Goals Ahead of Schedule Along the Green Line

The Big Picture Project (BPP), a public-private partnership established to ensure and strengthen affordable housing along the Green Line, has just released a progress report showing it's already exceeded the halfway mark for its 10-year goals.
Since 2011, when the collaboration began:

·         3,573 units of affordable housing have been built or preserved—80% of Big Picture Project's 10-year goal.
·         968 lower income families have benefited from resources that help them stay in their homes—61% of the 10-year goal.
·         Of the 6,388 new housing units built along the Green Line, 1,269 (20%) are designated affordable.
·         More than $4.2 billion has been invested in residential and commercial development (not including the new stadiums) along the existing Green Line—more than half-way to the projected goal of $7 billion worth of development over 30 years.

“Five years ago, we were uncertain that our collective resources could meet the Big Picture's 'stretch' goal of creating and preserving 4,500 affordable housing units along the Green Line by 2020," says Russ Stark, St. Paul City Council and BPP member. "But we were able to meet that goal—years ahead of schedule—by focusing attention and resources on the need for affordable housing as part of new development along the Central Corridor."

To ensure people with low incomes benefit from access to light rail transportation by finding affordable housing nearby, the Big Picture Project originally set out three objectives along the Central Corridor:

·         Invest in the production and preservation of long-term affordable housing;
·         Stabilize the neighborhood and invest in activities that help low-income people stay in their homes and benefit from the new transit opportunity;
·         Strengthen families’ stability and quality of life through coordinated investments in housing, transportation, and access to jobs and education.
 
“The Big Picture Project has benefited stakeholders along the Corridor precisely because it looked at the big picture," says James Lehnhoff, vice president of housing development at Aeon and a BPP member. "The project recognized the vital interconnections between people, transit, employment, housing and amenities. As an affordable housing developer and owner, we appreciate this incredible interconnectivity because it has the ability to provide new or expanded opportunities for our residents.”

While the Big Picture's first five years have produced impressive results, the group's work will continue with a focus on highlighting successful examples of mixed-income housing—such as 2700 University, a project by Indiana-based private developer Flaherty and Collins—and addressing challenges faced by low income renters who are having a harder time maintaining and finding quality affordable housing. Residents with no financial buffers to absorb housing cost increases are often the first to feel the pressures of displacement. As the market potential of the Central Corridor increases, the collaboration wants to ensure that the most vulnerable members of the community don't get pushed aside.  If they want to stay in their community, they have good options.

"This is the next phase of the Big Picture's work," says Gretchen Nicholls, program officer at Twin Cities LISC and the project's coordinator. "We'll keep up the pace of affordable housing solutions, and share what we've learned with other emerging transit corridors as the region-wide system is built out. We're encouraged by the amazing progress we've made, and we'll continue striving toward an equitable economy—one in which everyone can participate and prosper."

Starting this July, the Big Picture Project will host a series of convenings focusing on promising solutions and innovative strategies to cultivate communities of opportunity along our regional transit corridors.
 

 
 

LISC awards creative placemaking grants for arts-related economic development

Three Twin Cities nonprofits have received Creative Placemaking grants from the Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). Part of a national LISC grantmaking program funded by The Kresge Foundation, the grants went to Juxtaposition Arts in North Minneapolis, and the Asian Economic Development Association and African Economic Development Solutions in St. Paul.

LISC's Creative Placemaking program focuses on five metro areas across the country, including the Twin Cities. It aims to drive dollars into arts-related businesses and cultural activities that will help transform some of America’s most distressed neighborhoods into safe, vibrant places of economic opportunity.

"We’re happy to be part of this national program that supports arts and culture in community and economic development," says Kathy Mouacheupao, creative placemaking program officer at Twin Cities LISC. "Over the past couple of years, we’ve learned a lot about the impact of the arts in addressing the physical and cultural displacement of communities and are excited to expand this work to support partners along the Green Line and North Minneapolis."

The grants will support strategies that create jobs, reduce blight, attract patrons and visitors, and build a strong sense of community among residents. In the Twin Cities, African Economic Development Solutions will use its $25,000 grant to hire an artist organizer and to fund an expanded Little Africa Festival in August 2016. The Asian Economic Development Association will use its $40,000 grant to develop retail space for local artisans to sell their products in Little Mekong and to train local fashion-based Asian artists in business development. Juxtaposition Arts will use its $40,000 grant to fund the predevelopment stage of its textile lab renovation and to further its Tactical Urbanism program, which uses arts and cultural events as interventions to address community challenges in North Minneapolis.

"This LISC support will help the Little Mekong District inspire, invigorate and celebrate the authenticity, diversity, and creativity of our Asian communities and local neighborhoods," says Oskar Ly, artist organizer at the Asian Economic Development Association. "We'll not only be elevating our unique art and cultural assets, but fostering long-term prosperity for our communities."
 

ULI MN's MSPswagger instigates conversation on building a talent powerhouse

“What is making the North Loop exciting and a gravitational point within Minneapolis?” asks Chris Palkowitsch, an Urban Land Institute (ULI) Minnesota Young Leadership Group co-chair for the March 3 event #MSPswagger – Building a Talent Powerhouse.
 
“Why has Lowertown in St. Paul been named the best hipster neighborhood? And what’s the next area? Midway in St. Paul?” he continues. “What steps can be taken from successful areas of the city to create the next up and coming community; to grow a great urban environment for people to live—young, old and families alike.”
 
The answers, hope the organizers of #MSPswagger – Building a Talent Powerhouse, will be tossed into the conversation, put on the table, shared and discussed during the afternoon event at Vandalia Tower in the Creative Enterprise Zone of St. Paul —and over beers at Lake Monster Brewing next door.
 
Created in collaboration with Greater MSP, and to help boost its Make It. MSP initiative to attract and retain new talent to the area, #MSPswagger boldly wishes to assert that—despite our characteristic reluctance to brag—there’s a lot to boast about in our twin towns. “We really want the event to be a conversation, a dialogue,” Palkowitsch says. “We want to hear what creates MSP swagger. Let’s be proud of what we have.”
 
ULI is a nonprofit organization focusing on land use and development, so the discussion will be through a professional real estate lens—with an eye also on the power of placemaking. In other words, there’s more to this topic than The North, a conceptual and branding idea about MSP identity proposed by Eric Dayton that went viral last year. “The idea of The North is a bit of swagger, particularly in the branding,” Palkowitsch says.
 
“It’s about being proud of our successful and clean cities, our lakes and open space, our arts and culture, our great neighborhoods,” he continues. “Our event isn’t building on the ideas of The North so much as functioning as an additive by looking at issues of job creation and retention from the lens of real-estate and land-use professionals.”
 
According to the #MSPswagger webpage, the challenge in the next five years is to “overcome a predicted workforce shortage of 100,000” people. “Concise, strategic branding will enable the region to compete for talent nationally,” and critical to that endeavor is placemaking: “Creating a work, live, play culture will encourage long-term talent retention.”
 
“What better way is there to talk about these issues than during a program for the land-use industry,” says Aubrey Austin, director of member engagement for ULI MN. And at this point, there are more questions than answers.
 
“How do we talk about what is good about our region, and what’s working well, so we can better respond to the challenges ahead?” Austin suggests. “What should we be thinking about in the land-use industry, around development and places, so we can be better prepared for a growing population and new workforce? That leads to another question: How do we talk about our region to encourage people to move here?”
 
Moreover, Austin continues, “We need to ask: What attracts businesses to downtown? How do we figure out why businesses locate where they do? What’s so important about connectivity and transit-oriented development? How can we have a conversation that encourages people to contribute and be civically engaged with their city?”
 
Yes, Austin and Palkowitsch agree that MSP already has a lot going for it. But there’s more to be done.
 
“Part of ULI’s mission is to bring public and private entities together,” Palkowitsch says. “City and business leaders, city planners and marketing professionals all need to be part of the conversation.” The speakers for #MSPswagger reflect that variety. On the panel are: Chris Behrens, president and CEO of YA (a marketing firm that recently moved to downtown Minneapolis); Andrew Dresdner, an urban designer with Cuningham Group; and Kris Growcott, an entrepreneur.
 
“We’re hoping for an open discussion from different sectors talking about what’s important to them,” Austin says, “and finding common ground.”
 
To register for #MSPswagger – Building a Talent Powerhouse, go here.
 
 
 

Renovated Palace Community Center a new nexus of neighborhood activity

In the 1970s, the Palace Community Center in the West 7th area of downtown St. Paul was “a very popular place,” recalls Christopher Stark, architect for the St. Paul Department of Parks & Recreation. “But it was also very heavy and dark and closed in, without any windows, like a lot of community buildings of the era.”
 
Last May, the center closed for a much needed expansion and makeover. With help from LSE Architects in Minneapolis, the renovated Palace Community Center opened January 30, its new glass façade gleaming in welcome to visitors. “We really wanted a new front that was opening and inviting, and communicated how we’re accessible to everyone,” Stark says. “All of the glass brings in natural light and connects all of the spaces inside to the outside.”
 
After LSE noted that the existing building had “four backs to it” and no real front, the design team used glass to “engage all sides of the building with the outdoors,” Stark says. “We didn’t want any visual connections to be lost, and the building is now connected with the streets, the softball and baseball fields, and the playground.”
 
Approximately 5,000 square feet of the building—almost the entire structure—was demolished; only the gym remained. Expanding the building to 16,5000 square feet allowed the center to expand its programming, as well. “Instead of only targeting youth and physical activities, we created a place with opportunities for all ages, from kids in after-school programs to seniors who can use the center as a gathering place for forging social connections,” Stark says.
 
LSE kept the building entrance at the corner of Palace Avenue and View Street, and inserted a new central commons area inside that shows off a new wood structure. Off the commons at the center of the building is a new community room (the old one was on the second level, accessed only by one staircase—no elevator) with a kitchen. The community room and adjacent senior room are separated by a flexible divider, which can be opened to create a larger space. “Another one of our goals was to ensure our renovated building included a lot more flexibility,” Stark says.
 
A new awning and porch on the east facing the ball fields are for anyone wishing to relax in the shade on summer days and watch the kids play. In the winter, the ice rink outside now has a warming room with an operable wall that can be opened to the indoor fitness room for more space. The warming room and adjacent bathroom can also be kept separate and open when the rest of the building is closed.
 
The renovated center is a Buildings, Benchmarks & Beyond (B3) project. B3’s guidelines for sustainable building were “developed for and are required on State-funded projects in Minnesota, however they are easily applied to any project,” according to the B3 website. The sustainable-design strategies incorporated into the Palace Community Center include a storm-water retention pond on site, daylight sensors throughout the building and energy-efficient mechanical systems. 
 
“We had a popular facility people had been visiting for years,” Stark says. “But it was cold in the winter and hot in the summer. It wasn’t meeting its potential. Now we have an inviting, environmentally sound community center with programming that provides activities for everyone, and with the flexibility that will allow the Palace Community Center to evolve over time.”
 

Broadway Flats: North Mpls' largest mixed-use, workforce housing project in a decade

Four years after a tornado damaged dozens of homes and businesses in the district’s heart, North Minneapolis is experiencing a development resurgence. At the intersection of Penn Avenue and Golden Valley Road, the Commons at Penn mixed-use project is nearing completion; it’s slated for occupancy in early spring.
 
Less than a mile north on Penn, at the busy five-way intersection of Penn and Broadway, an even more ambitious mixed-use property is taking shape: Broadway Flats, North Minneapolis’ largest workforce housing project in more than a decade.
 
Rose Development, a North Minneapolis company owned by a prominent local family, is taking the lead on the project with help from a $1.4 million pay-as-you-go TIF grant. ESG Architects designed the building. Broadway Flats sits squarely in the track of the 2011 North Minneapolis tornado, which damaged or destroyed dozens of homes and businesses in the neighborhood.
 
“In the aftermath of the 2011 tornado, a vibrant future is taking shape on the corner of Penn and West Broadway avenues,” said Dean Rose, principal at Rose Development, in a recent post. “Broadway Flats...[is] bringing new vitality and opportunity to West Broadway.”
 
Broadway Flats’ plans call for 103 units of workforce housing and “a level of quality and amenities not previously available in the community.” Renderings show an oblong, four-story structure that fronts on Broadway and occupies most of an irregularly shaped block.
 
Broadway Flats will have nearly 20,000 square feet of first-floor retail. About half of that space will be occupied by an expanded and redesigned Broadway Liquor Outlet, which is also owned by the Rose family. The store was extensively damaged in the 2011 tornado and is currently located in a smaller structure across Broadway. Rose Development hasn’t announced tenants for the rest of the first-floor space, but has previously indicated an interest in attracting a high-end restaurant or locally owned retail.
 
According to Broadway Flats’ website, residents can look forward to a host of high-end amenities that wouldn’t look out of place in the North Loop or Uptown: a high-tech business center; a fully outfitted fitness center; conference, community and party rooms; and heated underground parking.
 
Plans also call for a partially covered, heated transit platform serving the popular 19 bus. If Metro Transit stays on track with plans for the bus rapid transit C Line, currently slated for a late-decade opening, the Penn Avenue platform will receive an upgrade and/or new signage.
 

Commons at Penn: Workforce housing and food co-op to open in North Minneapolis

The Green Line corridor isn’t the only area of MSP experiencing a boom in community-driven development. Two miles northwest of the Green Line’s Target Field terminus, at the heavily trafficked Penn Avenue/Golden Valley Road intersection in North Minneapolis’ Willard-Hay neighborhood, an ambitious mixed-use project is taking shape: The Commons at Penn Avenue.  
 
A four-story, block-long structure, Commons at Penn will house 45 units of workforce housing, a host of community amenities and the 4,000 square foot Wirth Cooperative Grocery Store — MSP’s newest grocery co-op. Watson-Forsberg and LHB Corporation are co-developing the project.
 
Building Blocks, a North Minneapolis nonprofit founded and overseen by native son (and former NBA star) Devean George, designed and financed Commons at Penn. Wirth Co-op is financed independently, thanks in part to a $500,000 federal grant, and will lease space in Commons at Penn’s ground floor.
 
If the current schedule holds, Commons at Penn and Wirth Co-op should open in spring 2016 — well in advance of the planned Penn Avenue BRT (C Line)’s debut later this decade.
 
“We’re shooting for an Earth Day opening for the co-op,” says Miah Ulysse, Wirth’s general manager.
 
The development will join nearby Broadway Flats in providing affordable housing and locally run retail along North Minneapolis’ densely populated Penn Avenue corridor.
 
According to Building Blocks, Commons at Penn’s residential component will feature a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units with touches common in downtown lofts: hardwood floors and nine-foot ceilings. Amenities include community rooms, an onsite fitness center and three laundry rooms.
 
Commons at Penn’s first floor will include a Northpoint Health & Wellness office. Though the Northpoint office won’t be a full-service clinic — the focus is on “community outreach with space for events and health education classes,” according to Building Blocks — the design does include two “flexible-use exam rooms.” Building Blocks will office in an adjacent suite.
 
Wirth Co-op’s arrival is another boost for the area, often considered a food desert: The closest full-service grocery store is the Cub Foods at Broadway and I-94, well over a mile to the east. Corner convenience stores and gas stations stock essentials and plenty of snack foods, but rarely fresh fruits, veggies or non-processed foods. According to TCYIMBY, about 40 percent of Wirth’s fresh food will be certified organic or natural; that proportion could increase as the co-op establishes itself in the neighborhood.
 
“Locally sourced items will be a huge focus for us, in addition to organic and natural,” says Ulysse.
 
As of mid-October, the most recent reporting date, Wirth Co-op had about 460 committed members out of a 500-member goal. Membership is $100 (one-time) per household, payable in $25 installments, and $15 for those qualifying for public assistance.
 

Good Grocer: Food shopping for inside-out empowerment

Good Grocer, an independent grocery store tucked into a low-slung building near the old Kmart at Lake Street and I-35W, has only been open since mid-June. Yet it’s already received coverage in a half-dozen press outlets, from the Star Tribune and the Huffington Post.
 
What makes Good Grocer different? Founded by Kurt Vickman, long-serving (now former) pastor at Edina’s Upper Room Church, Good Grocer is part co-op, part nonprofit social enterprise and all good.
 
According to its website, Good Grocer stocks more than 3,000 items, focusing mostly on fresh fruits and vegetables, and minimally processed meats, dairy and baked goods. Unlike a traditional co-op, whose members pay fees on joining, Good Grocer regulars pay for their memberships by volunteering at least 2.5 hours per month at the store: stocking shelves, working checkout, whatever needs to be done. In return, they get 25 percent discounts to sticker price on everything they buy at the store that month. Good Grocer has at least 300 members and counting.
 
The goal, says Vickman, is inside-out empowerment — the inverse of the standard outside-in, or top-down, charity model. Though Vickman doesn’t keep detailed statistics on members’ economic status, the immediate neighborhood is among Minneapolis’ poorest precincts.
 
Good Grocer helps locals who “value eating well, but can’t afford the ever-increasing cost of food” to partake in a food quality experience usually reserved for Whole Foods shoppers. By giving members an outlet to give back to their fellow shoppers in a tangible way, Good Grocer is literally helping people help themselves.
 
“Low-income people aren’t helpless or giftless,” says Vickman. “We all have gifts and strengths within us. It’s [Good Grocer’s] mission to draw those gifts and strengths out of our members and empower them to define themselves in terms of their potential, not their limitations.”
 
Good Grocer also addresses its densely populated environs’ glaring lack of fresh food options. Its corner of South Minneapolis doesn’t meet the technical definition of “food desert,” but the Midtown Global Market and the Uptown Cub — the closest reliable sources for fresh food — aren’t close at hand.
 
“We thought we’d get some positive feedback about our choice of location,” says Vickman, “but we were really taken aback by the number of people who came in to say, ‘Man, thank you for opening a grocery store here.’”
 
Then again, Good Grocer isn’t a straightforward charity. The blocks to the north and west of Good Grocer are economically diverse — and, in some areas, downright affluent — so a fair number of locals can afford to shop at the store without much regard to price. Good Grocer counts on those folks to patronize the store in numbers and pay full price for their purchases. Full-price customers subsidize in-need members who rely on the 25 percent discount and ensure that Good Grocer can afford to stock top-quality food items.
 
Indeed, Vickman sees Good Grocer as a low-friction way for people of means to give back in a more meaningful way than simply donating some cans to a food pantry or church around the holidays. The store’s motto is “Let us never tire of doing good,” a Scriptural reference to Christians’ charitable duties. That motto neatly summarizes Vickman’s choice to leave his relatively comfortable appointment at Upper Room and strike out as a social entrepreneur.
 
“I decided that I wanted to spend more of my time living the themes I was preaching, rather than just talking about them,” he explains.
 
Despite Good Grocer’s ecclesiastical pedigree, the store is strictly non-denominational — non-religious, actually. “No one’s handing out tracts at the door,” says Vickman, who notes that the store’s membership base is a reflection of the neighborhood’s racial and denominational diversity: first- and second-generation immigrants from Latin America, Asia and Africa shop and volunteer alongside the area’s established European and African-American residents.
 
“We’re not looking for help or support from outside the community here,” says Vickman. “We’re proud to be creating our own solutions.”
 
 
 

Frogtown Farm: A community vision comes to fruition

For more than seven years, Frogtown Farm has been a community vision slowly manifesting into an authentic project: A 12.7-acre parcel of public land that will include 5.5 acres developed as an urban farm. On Saturday, October 3, at 10:30 a.m., the Frogtown Farm officially opens.
 
“Our grand opening signifies a herculean effort by community members,” says Eartha Borer Bell, executive director, Frogtown Farm, St. Paul. “I’ve been involved with the project for a year now as paid, full time staff, and it’s constantly humbling how much time and effort, heart and soul, for over almost a decade, the community has put into the project. Our opening is a mark of what can be done when people get together, have a vision and see it through.”

Frogtown Farm is the vision of longtime Frogtown residents Seitu Jones, Soyini Guyton, Patricia Ohmans and Anthony Schmitz. “They saw a great opportunity to increase access to greenspace in the Frogtown neighborhood,” Bell says. After the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation built its main campus on the land, then put the buildings up for sale in 2008, the property was vacant. The visionaries approached the Trust for Public Land to help them raise funds to purchase the site.
 
In 2012, the Trust, a national nonprofit organization that conserves land for parks, gardens and other natural places, struck a deal to buy the land for $2.2 million from the  Wilder Foundation. In 2013, Frogtown Farm invited the community to help design the site. “We developed a number of community engagement initiatives around what the park and farm would look like,” Bell says. “Over a six-to-eight month process, hundreds of community members became involved. Their input resulted in the design.”
 
Later that year, the City of St. Paul began discussions with Frogtown Farm about owning the property, in order to keep it accessible to the public. At the end of 2013, the land was later transferred to the City of St. Paul. In addition to the farm, the site includes play areas and maintains a historic oak grove.
 
“Urban agriculture is really booming in the Twin Cities,” Bell says. “While Frogtown isn’t necessarily a food desert, our community does experience barriers to accessing fresh local food. The farm will help remedy that situation.” The farm will also bring the neighborhood’s various populations together, to grow, prepare and share the food grown on the farm, she adds.
 
“There are plenty of anecdotes, and there’s lots of information, on how Frogtown is a diverse neighborhood,” Bell explains. “But we keep hearing that there isn’t a lot of interaction between those diverse populations. We do know that people like growing and cultivating a garden or farm, and cooking and preserving food.”
 
“So our five-year plan includes construction of a building that would serve as an incubator for fledgling food businesses in the community, an education center with cooking classes, and a community center,” Bell adds. “We hope that will provide great opportunities for people of all ages to share food traditions from their diverse cultures.”
 
The grand opening on October 3 will include a land blessing ceremony (10:30 a.m.), program (11 a.m.), and “Taste of Frogtown” event with tours and activities (noon to 2 p.m.).
 
 
 
 
 
 

Public Functionary expands its footprint and opportunities for "functional philanthropy"

When does growth mean more than increased square footage and financial opportunity? When the organization is the nonprofit art center Public Functionary. PF’s planned expansion into the building it currently occupies a portion of at Broadway and Buchanan in Northeast Minneapolis will lead to more innovative community programming, says Mike Bishop, PF’s director of operations.
 
Within the three to six months, Bishop says, the organization will move into the north portion of the building “with the mission of making art even more accessible with community events that get people into art spaces. While it’s scary to take on that rent and responsibility, we’re also looking at the expansion as a chance to further develop PF.”
 
Since opening in 2013, PF has billed itself as a nontraditional arts center with a focus on contemporary visual art, especially by rising national and local artists whose work expresses diversity in background, approach, inspiration and materiality. Exhibitions have also included dance, theater, music and performance art, as well as public participation. “Through our flexible exhibition space, multidisciplinary artwork and events, we’ve seen how important collaboration is to us,” Bishop says.
 
To further the collaborative impulse, he continues, PF has been “inviting in community groups and letting them use the space as a resource. They bring in their audience, which allows them to get to know PF and get comfortable with contemporary art.” That initiative led to another. “We started thinking about the communities we haven’t engaged with yet, including local businesses in Northeast. We decided to open our space to new and established businesses, so they could become involved with the art in a nontraditional way. We’re calling it ‘functional philanthropy.’”
 
Financial One, for instance, recently introduced its new brand to its team in PF’s exhibition area. The location “was a great way for the employees to get outside of the office and have their meeting in a creative engaging space,” Bishop says. Other meetings may include an illustrator sketching the session’s outcomes, or PF director and curator Tricia Khutoretsky providing arts-related approaches to problem solving.
 
“We’d like to help businesses work through solutions more organically using an arts perspective,” Bishop explains. “For example, Liz Miller is an installation artist who has transformed our exhibition area. She comes with an idea, but knows it will always go another way; that she’ll have to work with the space, modify her approach and those challenges will inform final product.”
 
Rather than a direct sponsorship approach, PF’s “functional philanthropy” offers businesses a way to “give back to their community and get something tangible in return that can come out of meetings and events budgets, and marketing budgets, not just community giving budgets,” Kate Iverson, PF’s development director, explained via email. “It's not only inspiring to meet and develop ideas at PF, but also to explore arts-driven approaches to problem solving, and pass on the value of art and community building to employees and clients.”
 
In other words, Bishop says, the expansion “will give us the flexibility to push our model further, and become a more fully fleshed out art center.”
 

Brazilian muralist paints Bob Dylan mural in downtown Minneapolis

Last week, city music fans and cultural mavens were abuzz about news that Eduardo Kobra, an internationally acclaimed Brazilian muralist, would begin working on a five-story mural of Bob Dylan on the west façade of the 15 Building at Fifth Street and Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. As the painting commenced, passersby marveled at the color and artistry — as well as the speed with which Kobra and his team materialized the mural.
 
Kobra is reportedly renowned for his bright color palette and bold use of line. His work also often pays homage to people with a particular association with a city or place, which is why he selected Dylan. (Kobra is also a fan.) Three Brazilian and two Minnesota-based artists helped with the production.
 
“Eduardo Kobra’s new mural will add an invigorating and colorful international artwork to the downtown Cultural District and Hennepin Avenue,” says Tom Hoch, president and CEO, Hennepin Theatre Trust, Minneapolis. The mural is a project of the Hennepin Theatre Trust. “At the same time, it celebrates Bob Dylan, who is not only one of Minnesota’s most admired native sons, but also a former owner of the Trust’s Orpheum Theatre.”
 
Dylan owned the Orpheum Theatre from 1979 to 1988 with his brother David Zimmerman. The 74-year-old icon from Hibbing has performed frequently at the Orpheum including three consecutive shows last fall. The Orpheum, located on Hennepin Avenue, is just down the street from the mural site, so its presence has particular resonance for Hennepin Avenue and for Hennepin Theatre Trust, which currently owns the Orpheum.
 
“Kobra was collaboratively selected for this project,” Hoch says. “Various people and muralists were under consideration, and Kobra soon became the obvious choice because he is renowned internationally, has a wonderfully colorful palette and great street credentials.”

The 15 Building is currently owned by R2 Companies and AIMS Real Estate, a business unit of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, which was involved in Kobra’s selection. The 15 Building is an historic Art Deco office tower constructed in the 1920s. More recently, it has become home to many creative loft-office users including Channel Z, Hunt Atkins, Bloom Health and Assemble.
 
 

Midway Murals and Little Africa celebrate Snelling redo with arts festival

After moving to and buying a house in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood five years ago with his wife, Jonathan Oppenheimer was inspired to create “a dream project.”
 
“I thought: ‘Wouldn't it be awesome to transform Snelling Avenue, then highlight the changes to transform the public’s perception of it,’ ” he recalls. He had in mind a half-mile stretch of Snelling, the visible and highly traveled portion from I-94 over the Green Line and north toward the State Fair.
 
“The area suffers from rampant graffiti,” Oppenheimer says, “and the business owners in the area, many of them immigrant business owners, would like to change people’s perception of that stretch of Snelling. I also wanted to help bridge the stark divide between immigrants and residents, economic classes and race, by doing something creative and productive.”
 
So Oppenheimer founded Midway Murals and in 2014 received McKnight Arts Challenge to complete the project. A launch party in February brought 300 people into the Turf Club “to show folks it’s really happening and get them excited about it,” Oppenheimer says.
 
On Saturday, August 29, the Midway Art Festival, co-hosted by Midway Murals and Little Africa, celebrates the murals’ completion, from 12-6 p.m., at Hamline Park on the corner of Snelling and Thomas avenues.
 
The event includes live and interactive art projects from Rogue Citizen, Dim Media, Streetcorner Letterpress, the Poetry Mobile, and Fluid Ink; music from Superbrush 427 and River Beats Entertainment; and an overall celebration of the newly reconstructed Snelling Avenue. Also on the docket are tours of the four murals created by four local public artists: Lori Greene worked in mosaic; Greta McLain in paint and mosaic; Eric Mattheis in spray paint; and Yuya Negishi in traditional and spray paint.
 
“Each artist created a separate mural, while working over several months with area business owners to craft an idea,” Oppenheimer says. “The murals reflect the changes in culture, residents, infrastructure and imagination that are forever occurring in the city, as well as the promise and struggles that the community navigates over time.” All of the artists worked with a central theme: starting anew.
 
“I always wanted to be involved in neighborhood activism, to take stock of what was wonderful and the places needing improvement,” Oppenheimer adds. “And I wanted to start a conversation around a public art project, as public art has the unique ability to bring people into contact with things they wouldn’t otherwise see.”
 
Oppenheimer is also thrilled that the completed murals, and Midway Art Festival, will occur just as renovations to Snelling Avenue are completed, including new decorative lighting and sidewalks. “People are excited because Snelling has a fresh look,” he says. “We’re hoping the arts festival and mural projects will also better unite the neighborhood, spark conversations and inspire people to continue improving the area.”
 
According to the Midway Murals website, the initiative “will serve as the cornerstone for a new public art workgroup housed in the Hamline Midway Coalition, the neighborhood’s non-profit district council. This group will bring together community members of diverse backgrounds to meet regularly to brainstorm new ideas and locations for public art; ensure upkeep and maintenance of existing pieces; and curate and oversee the expansion of this art corridor in future years.”
 
 
 
 

Little Mekong Night Market moves and expands in August

Last summer, the Little Mekong Night Market, a project of the Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA) in St. Paul, debuted, introducing the Twin Cities to the vibrancy of the markets that are a common occurrence across Asia. “There’s a unique vibe and energy that happens when people are hanging out at night, in the summer, at a festive event that’s intergenerational and family friendly,” says artist organizer Oskar Ly, who helped coordinate last year’s night markets.
 
In fact, MSP’s first night market, Ly recalls, was such a hit that “people kept coming back with their families and friends to check out all the night markets in Little Mekong. People have said they felt as though they were transported into a different country for the evening.”
 
This year, the Little Mekong Night Market will be held Friday, August 7, from 6 p.m. to midnight, and Saturday, August 8, from 4 p.m. to midnight. The location, however, has changed. “We’re moving the night market from the parking lot behind Mai Village to the street, and closing off Western Avenue from Charles to Aurora,” says Jeffrey Whitman, event manager, Little Mekong Night Market, AEDA.
 
“We’re also moving the main stage across the street into a parking lot, so we have more space to spread out,” he adds. “Last year, we were really tucked into a nook. Surveys showed that people needed more room, and also wanted to have greater exposure and catch more passersby off the Green Line. We listened.”
 
This year’s vendors will include Dangerous Productions (a nonprofit performing arts group), the fashion truck Style A Go-Go, novelty accessories by Designs by RedFireFly, Luce Quilts, Nuclear Nectar’s hot sauces, Pho-Ger’s kimchee fries, Lilly Bean Ice Desserts, LolaRosa's Filipino-inspired food, RedGreen Rivers’ traditional Hmong fair trade crafts, and Silhouette Bakery’s sweet and savory Japanese buns.
 
Also, Ly says, “We’re expanding the diversity of arts that will be showcased. We have 100 groups of artists, art activities, and traditional and contemporary performances planned.”

Performances by Mayda, Str8 2th, Hmong Breakers Leadership Council, Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli, Capoeira Fitness Academy,
Hmong Cultural Center Qeej Troupe, Xibaba Brazilian and World Jazz are scheduled. The arts activities will be spearheaded by Humans of Night Market by Hmongkee Business, Greetings from Night Market by Hmongkee Business, SparkIt,
Chicks on Sticks, Hoop Jams and other groups.

The Little Mekong Night Market was started last year as part of AEDA’s mission to help small and micro-businesses take off and flourish. “The night market is really about buying local, from people who live in the neighborhood,” Whitman says. “Some of the vendors come from outside the community, but the majority of them live and work right here. The market supports the neighborhood and brings in people to see what Little Mekong has to offer.”
 
In addition to functioning as an economic development initiative, Ly adds that the market is also a “placemaking effort for Little Mekong. It’s part of our rebranding of the district, in order to further revitalize the area, bring in new visitors, and entice people to come back—again and again.”
 

Dance, law and beer grow on the Green Line

Along the Green Line light-rail corridor, which opened in June 2014, business continues to grow as arts organizations, breweries and small offices either set up shop or expand along University Avenue. In St. Paul, they include the multi-cultural modern dance company TU Dance; the Mendoza Law Office, which specializes in nonprofits and cable/telecom communications; and Lake Monster Brewing, which joins the brewery boom in the Creative Enterprise Zone. Here’s what they have to say about being an invested part of the Green Line community.
 
TU Dance
 
As The Line reported in 2013, Toni Pierce-Sands, co-founder of TU Dance, rode the bus to dance classes as a child. “So when she and her husband, dancer and choreographer Uri Sands, were founding their St. Paul-based dance company TU Dance in 2004, Pierce-Sands says she ‘envisioned young kids waiting on the corner for a bus that would take them to our dance school.’”
 
Today, that school is called TU Dance Center. And the kids ride not only the bus, but also the light rail. Founded in 2011 in a rehabbed former woodworking and cabinetry shop, the professional dance school is located between a Subway and an auto-repair shop on Green Line. Since opening, the center’s programming has been steadily growing to meet the needs of students seeking out the Sands’ singular mix of creative movement/drum classes, and ballet, modern and West African dance.
 
So much so, that the TU Dance Center has added another 2,000 square feet of space upstairs. Known as TU Dance Center Studio 2, the second floor includes a new dance studio with a sprung floor, ballet barres, piano and drums, and sound system; new restrooms and changing rooms, and administrative offices.
 
“Having grown to more than 150 students in our youth programs, our current expansion to a second studio space meets a critical need for offering classes at multiple levels and techniques in the limited after-school time slot that works for families,” says Sands. Rather than move to a new location, the couple decided to remain in their current building and expand.
 
“We believe the opportunity to experience dance is transformative — for audiences, for students, for our community,” explains Pierce-Sand. “To make that opportunity real, dance classes need to be accessible. Our location on the Green Line is one key aspect of that commitment."
 
Mendoza Law Office
 
“I have a lot of optimism about the Green Line corridor and how the area is going to grow in the coming years,” says Tony Mendoza, who recently moved his law practice, Mendoza Law Office, LLC, into the 1000 University Avenue building. While looking for a new location for his growing practice, which was previously located along the Blue Line, Mendoza studied the avenue and noticed “buildings being refurbished and lots of new businesses,” he says.
 
University Avenue also offered the convenience of hopping on the train to either downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul for meetings. Then he noticed 1000 University. The 1929 building has exposed brick and timber beams, as well as spacious common areas. “We were also able to design the space we wanted,” he adds.
 
After law school, Mendoza joined Fredrickson & Byron’s advertising and entertainment group, and began working in communications. He later worked for the administration of Governor Ventura as a deputy commerce commissioner for telecommunications. Eleven years ago, he opened his own practice specializing in cable, telecom and entertainment law.
 
“There’s a lot regulatory uncertainty and change right now in the area of broadband development,” Mendoza explains. “Comcast is one of my clients. They’re spinning off their systems here to a company called GreatLand Communications, which has generated quite a bit of work in terms of getting regulatory approvals for the transfer and spin off, and franchises they have to negotiate with cities where they operate, many of which have been coming up for renewal to provide their video services.”
 
Mendoza also works with startups, small businesses and nonprofits. “We’re getting involved with the Midwest Business Association with the hopes of helping more local businesses get started and organized,” he says. “We’re looking for symbiotic relationships where we can help each other grow, especially along University Avenue.”
 
Lake Monster Brewing
 
After scouting dozens of locations for Lake Monster Brewing, which he co-owns with Jeremy Maynor and brewer Matt Lange, Matt Zanetti decided on the 550 Vandalia Street property adjacent to the Green Line. Located a block off I94, in the Creative Enterprise Zone, Zanetti was taken with the convenience of the site, as well as with the massive building itself.
 
“We’ll have a 170-spot parking lot,” he enthuses, and the brewery, which may open this fall, is also a block from the Raymond Avenue stop on the Green Line. “The building itself is historic and amazing, with red brick and steel girders.” What about all of the other new breweries in the area, including Bang, Urban Growler and Surly?
 
“The day after we signed the lease we took a case a beer and went to Urban Growler and Bang,” Zanetti says. “We’re really excited to be a part of the growing microbrewery scene in the Creative Enterprise Zone. We’re another destination people can enjoy.”
 
Lake Monster will also be the first and anchor tenant in the building (owned by First & First), which Zanetti says will create a lot of buzz. “Our tanks have arrived, but a lot of site work still needs to be done,” he says. “We’ll have two patios, as well as a 2500-square-foot taproom. We’ll have a nice big bar, soft spaces for relaxing, high tops, low tables… we want our taproom to be approachable!”
 
In addition to its two flagship beers, the Calhoun Claw Pilsener and the Empty Rowboat IPA, the brewery will also begin working on crafting some traditional beers with new twists.
 

Cooperative real estate model goes national

Three years ago, the Northeast Investment Cooperative (NEIC) was created to allow people to collectively buy, renovate, and manage commercial and residential property. Despite a mix of restaurants and retail businesses on Central Avenue in Northeast Minneapolis, and the adaptive reuse of former industrial buildings into the immensely popular 612 Broadway and Crown Center nearby, the area has a history of rundown storefronts and absentee landlords. NEIC is changing all that.
 
With nearly $300,000 in member investments, and having transformed 2504-06 at the corner of Central and Lowry avenues into a successful building with thriving tenants, NEIC is sharing its innovative cooperative model nationally. Already, in New York City, inspired residents formed their own co-op modeled after NEIC — NYC Real Estate Investment Cooperative — and more than 200 people immediately invested.
 
In February, an article in Yes! Magazine about NEIC went viral. Since then, the first commercial-property cooperative in the United States has been happily fielding inquiries from groups across the country, and board members will be speaking at conferences in St. Louis, Phoenix and Milwaukee on NEIC’s innovative business model. The appeal, explains Loren Schirber, a NEIC board member, is the opportunity to make a difference locally.
 
“People who have a vested interest in their neighborhood see the cooperative, commercial real estate model as an accessible way to make that difference and get a lot of other people involved,” Schirber says, and there’s more. “Kickstarter, Go Fund Me, Facebook and other social media and crowdfunding sites have changed how we do marketing and communications, so real estate investment opportunities are becoming more localized and accessible to people. This is the next logical step, because people don’t simply donate, they see where their money goes, what it’s doing and take ownership in the process.”
 
The cooperative real estate model also takes our new cultural emphasis on the local and bespoke — whether beer, food or handmade goods — further, Schirber continues. “How you save for retirement or invest is a logical extension of trying to be more conscious of what to do with your money and the influence you have. So with NEIC, we tackled an eyesore in the neighborhood we wanted to see changed. That resonated with local people…. and word traveled.”
 
Through NEIC’s cooperative structure, any Minnesota resident could join for $1,000. They could also invest more by purchasing non-voting stock. After a year of seeking investors, NEIC purchased two buildings on Central Avenue. Aki’s BreadHaus and Fair State Brewing Cooperative opened in 2014. NEIC’s partner, Recovery Bike Shop, is located next door. In total, the project represents more than a million dollars in new investment on Central Avenue.
 
“We spent thousands of hours getting started, fine tuning our bylaws, figuring out our structures, setting things up,” Schirber says. “Sharing that information with other groups, to make the process easier for them, is a principal of cooperative ownership.” So far, groups located in places from Seattle to Silver Spring, Maryland, Northern California to Cincinnati, Ohio, Texas to Washington D.C., have contacted NEIC for information.
 
Meanwhile, NEIC is avidly seeking a second property to bring to investors, and holding three information sessions and happy hours to discuss past successes and future plans: 
June 4: Info session at Eastside Food Co-op (7-8 p.m.), happy hour at Fair State Brewing Co-op (8-9 p.m.)
July 16: Info session at Narobi Market (7-8 p.m.), happy hour at Fair State Brewing Co-op (8-9 p.m.)
August 13: Info session at TBD (7-8 p.m.), happy hour at Fair State Brewing Co-op (8-9 p.m.)
 
“People have plenty of opportunities to become a minority investor,” Schirber says. “But from a tenant, investment and neighborhood standpoint, a cooperative model offers people more accessibility, control, ownership and a tangible reason for success.”
 

SPRC's 4th annual Placemaking Residency focuses on healthy cities

 
“The connection between place and health isn’t an intuitive one,” says Patrick Seeb, executive director, St. Paul Riverfront Corporation (SPRC). The fourth annual Placemaking Residency hosted by SPRC, May 11-15, hopes to forge that connection in the Twin Cities.
 
Titled “Moving the Twin Cities to Better Health,” the weeklong event will explore the relationship between urban design and population health through workshops, walking and biking tours, presentations and social events. Events will take place on St. Paul’s East Side, along University Avenue and in the Ecodistrict in Downtown St. Paul, as well as in the East Downtown area of Minneapolis and the South Loop of Bloomington.
 
“Well be out in the community, moving around the Twin Cities throughout the day and into the evening, in order to be interdisciplinary and so that participants — including urban planners, community activists, health experts and policy makers — can find different ways to engage,” Seeb says.
 
In past years, the residency has featured one key speaker focusing on a single topic. Last year the focus was on walkability and bikeability in the cities. The year before, the residency topic was place as a driver of economic investment. The first year, arts and culture as a strategy for place was the focus.
 
This year, three residents — all from the San Francisco area — will “enrich the conversation,” Seeb explains. Dr. Richard Jackson is the author of Designing Healthy Communities and the host of the PBS series of the same name. “He’s made a career out of studying the built environment and its impact on health,” Seeb says.
 
Gehl Studio is the San Francisco-based office of Gehl Architects. The firm’s work is cross-disciplinary, and incorporates architecture, urban design and city planning in projects around the world. “The studio focuses on changes we can make right now,” Seeb says. “Rather than thinking about long-term change, the studio specializes in immediate solutions. The Open Streets movement came out of their shop.”
 
The third resident, Dr. Anthony Iton, is senior vice president for healthy communities at The California Endowment. “His work helps people understand geographic, racial and wealth disparities throughout the U.S.,” Seeb explains. “He’ll present data about how your zip code can predict your expected lifespan.”
 
“In the past 40 to 50 years, the focus on cars, people feeling unsafe walking or biking to work or school, and food deserts are among the concerns that have emerged relating to health and cities,” Seeb says. “There’s a whole field of thinking that says we can change all that; that we can reduce childhood obesity if neighborhoods and streets are safe for kids to walk or bike to school, where they have access to healthy fresh local food.”  
 
“With this placemaking residency focused on healthy cities, we hope to expose people to the topic and get them to look at MSP and the choices we make in our cities through the lens of health,” Seeb continues. “The question is: How can we be much more intentional about creating a safe and healthy future in our cities?”
 
 

MTN joins creative mix in Northeast Minneapolis

 
 
After 22 years in St. Anthony Main along the Mississippi riverfront in downtown Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Television Network (MTN) is relocating to Northeast. On April 1, MTN will be joining the other entrepreneurial businesses, artists and creative industries currently in the Thorp Building, which is also a hub during the annual art festival Art-A-Whirl.
 
“As a creative media organization with a long history of serving the various communities in Minneapolis, we’re excited to move to the Thorp Building in Northeast in the middle of a thriving arts district,” says Michael Fallon, MTN’s executive director. Northeast Minneapolis was named the best arts district in the U.S. by USA Today.
 
“There’s so much potential for us in this neighborhood as we’ll be right in the thick of things, serving the community in the way public access television is meant to serve,” Fallon adds.
 
MTN’s mission is to “empower diverse Minneapolis residents seeking to connect to the larger community through the media,” according to its website. “We provide low-expense training for anyone who wants to learn to use the media,” Fallon adds.
 
MTN is largely supported through the Public Access Education and Government Channels (PEG) fees attached to cable subscribers. Over the years, the organization has given artists, comedians, community activists and numerous groups a platform for their work.
 
MTN’s studios have launched such talents as Fancy Ray McCloney, Viva and Jerry Beck (of the show “Viva and Jerry’s Country Music Videos”), Rich Kronfeld (of “The Choo Choo Bob Show”), “Mary Hanson (of “The Mary Hanson Show,” which is “one of longest running public access talk shows in the country,” Fallon says) and Ian Rans (of “Drinking with Ian”). MTN also broadcasts city government meetings and has given the growing Somali community a place to produce public-affairs shows that reach other immigrants. 
 
The new space will include staff offices; equipment rental; two fully equipped, community-focused television studios (with cameras, lights and a green screen) and video editing suites; a Youtube set-up for fast and easy studio productions; and a multipurpose classroom and public gathering area.
 
“We already been reaching out to the Northeast community and potential collaborations and we’re working on a partnership with [the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association] NEMAA,” Fallon says. “ We expect to fit right in and to become an essential part of the Northeast’s creative mix.”
 
 
 

Youth responses to art and identity enliven MMAA windows

 
The Pioneer Endicott in downtown St. Paul has undergone a significant transformation in the last year. The three-building complex includes the two, six-story Endicott buildings constructed in 1890 — and designed by renowned architect Cass Gilbert, who officed there for 20 years — on either side of the Pioneer building, which was built in 1889 to house the St. Paul Pioneer Press. All of the buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places.
 
While the upper floors have been renovated into apartments, and the second is home to a wine shop, the street level in the Pioneer is home to the Minnesota Museum of American Art (MMAA). Since moving into its “project space,” MMAA has mounted a number of significant exhibitions. But the museum has also creatively networked with an array of St. Paul organizations to expand its presence throughout the city — including co-presenting a theater production last summer that occurred on and around the Green Line light rail.
 
On view until mid-April, in the Pioneer Endicott’s large windows, between 4th and 5th streets, is another of these efforts: the photographic results of a collaboration among the museum and two youth-oriented non-profit organizations, St. Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN) and In Progress. The photographs were created by teen participants in Set It Up (a SPNN afterschool program), after they met with St. Paul artist Julie Buffalohead.
 
The students visited an exhibition of Buffalohead’s work, titled “Coyote Dreams,” at the MMAA, and talked with the artist about her process and artwork. (The show closed February 22.) “We had the students work with Julie because her art deals with themes that are very relevant to teenagers, such as feeling left out of cliques, not being good enough, struggling with identity,” explains Christina Chang, MMAA’s Curator of Engagement.
 
Buffalohead’s work, which has been exhibited throughout the U.S., also playfully and pointedly deals with motherhood, American Indian identity and popular culture. “SPNN has limited access to real working artists, exposure to whom is really crucial to young aspiring artists,” Chang adds. SPNN offers Set It Up youth various opportunities to use media and communications to empower themselves. While the program focuses on video production, it has evolved to include other media such as photography.
 
At the end of the exhibition tour and discussion, Buffalohead suggested the students create a photo project that reflected “the playfulness of childhood.” After meeting with mentors to brainstorm ideas around the theme, each student submitted a photo in response to the exhibition. The MMAA then worked with In Progress, a youth-oriented nonprofit that offers large format printing at a reasonable cost, to produce the final works for the windows.
 
One of the students, Darartu Tashoma, says that, “For me, it was inspiring to think back to my own childhood, and to think back on some of the stories of what I did as a kid. Julie’s art made me think about all our similarities that we have when we're children."
 
Adds Kevin Kalla, SPNN’s Youth Programs Coordinator, “Meeting Julie and hearing about her work was inspiring because she was very real in the way she talked about her art. She talked about the struggle of figuring out your identity, of being torn between two cultures and not being fully accepted by either. She talked about art as a way to process some of these emotions that are difficult to express. And she also talked about motherhood and how having a child inspired some of the more playful aspects of her work. I think that many of the youth in Set It Up found something to relate to in what she said, and were interested in the way that art could be used to explore some pretty complex ideas.”
 
The collaboration with MMAA was a first for SPNN. “While Set It Up has done photo projects in the past, this is the first time we've done a photographic response to an art exhibit,” Kalla continues. “The youth in Set It Up were able to have an authentic connection with an artist. They were able to collaborate with a local arts institution. And they had the honor of having their work displayed in public.”
 
“This project was a tremendously valuable experience for the young people in Set It Up, and that final piece — visiting the museum again and seeing their work on display in the windows — really made them feel like they were part of something bigger.”
 

A prize-winning proposal for an unused Midway site

An unused parcel of land between the Gordon Parks Alternative High School and the High School of Recording Arts in the Midway area of St. Paul has become the site of a prize-winning vision for community redevelopment. Pablo Villamil of Wold Architects & Engineers and David McKay of Strand Design, both in St. Paul, recently won First Place in the 2014 AIA St. Paul Prize design competition for their proposed outdoor education and community space. The design “is about making a place for the people who live there,” Villamil says.
 
Villamil and McKay entered the competition because “both of us are familiar with the area,” Villamil says. McKay lived in Midway for many years. Wold Architects & Engineers designed the Gordon Parks school. “So we know the layers of community and history in the area, as well as the users,” Villamil says. “That was a big part of our design: identifying and creating a park for the community.”
 
The 2.44-acre parcel, which is surrounded by the schools, retail stores, warehouses, office buildings and parking lots, includes a large hill. “We had to figure out how to make the site function across that elevation change, and make it accessible so residents and people from the schools can meet and connect in the space,” Villamil says.
 
The team’s vision includes an enclosed classroom recessed into the hillside for the Gordon Parks school. A second outdoor classroom for interactive education would allow the school and the public to focus on renewable resources and energy. The team also proposed an outdoor amphitheater terraced into the hillside for the Recording Arts school. The site would also include fields of native prairie plants and flowers, a playing field and plazas.
 
“Education is a big part of the project,” Villamil explains. “We wanted to create places the schools could share, spaces that function for the individual schools, and areas in which residents could receive public education about native habitats, green technologies and renewable resources.” The team’s vision also invites the surrounding community into the space for gardening, gatherings and events.
 
As for whether the team’s vision will be fully realized, that remains to be seen. As winners of the St. Paul Prize, Villamil says, he and McKay will be interacting with stakeholders at formal events and at informal gatherings. “We’re really looking forward to their feedback."
 

HWY North popup brings locally made to Hamline-Midway

“It's hard to put into words what feeling we are going for,” says Emily Anderson. “Fun, unique items that make you smile and want to do a happy dance.” Do not, however, expect any mass-manufactured Snoopy’s in Anderson’s new pop-up shop in the Hamline-Midway area of St. Paul. Her new popup shop, HWY North, only carries locally made goods that Anderson carefully curates.
 
“I am emphasizing Minnesota made goods because a) it resonates with my desire to buy local, b) supports our neighborhood artists, and c) hopefully creates a space where the many creative geniuses in our awesome cities can come together, share their talents, and perhaps collaborate to make something bigger than would otherwise have been possible,” she explains.
 
Anderson opened HWY North after noticing a retail space for rent in her neighborhood. A crowd-funding campaign helped cover the costs of setting up shop. Anderson has a background in visual art and public art, with an emphasis in art education and museum studies. She explains that she’s “always been driven through the arts, but over time I've realized that more than being an artist, I am an appreciator of the arts.”
 
For a long time, she envisioned opening a shop “that offers the public a place to see the talent within the immediate area, as well as a place to come together, have a sense of community and make.” To that end, HWY North has a regular schedule of classes for kids and adults ranging from sewing a tote bag to creating a Ukrainian egg ornament to making holiday cards.
 
The workshops, Anderson says, “encourage others to become makers by showing them new/old/forgotten skills, and by getting them ready to continue making beautiful things with their hands. Did you know studies have shown that being creative is essential to mental health? We bump that up a notch by also providing a fabulous community for making. It's all pretty great.”
 
Anderson finds HWY North’s bespoke shirts, jewelry, toys, art and home furnishings through local craft fairs. “But people are starting to contact me directly, which is exciting,” she says. She and group of collaborators discuss which items fit best with HWY North’s aesthetic, a continual work in progress, she says.
 
HWY North’s lease runs through March, Anderson says, “however, I would love to extend the lease if the store is successful.”
 

Union Depot muralist honored with installation and exhibition

In 2005, Atlanta-based painter Ralph Gilbert received a fellowship in mural painting from the National Academy of Design Museum. His topic was the multicultural history of Minnesota railroads. The destination for his six murals was St. Paul’s Union Depot. After Gilbert conducted extensive historical research, he spent seven months painting the panels, working on them at the same time to ensure continuity in style.
 
On Thursday, from 6-8 p.m., the Minnesota Museum of American Art (MMAA) will guide visitors from its Project Space in downtown St. Paul to Gilbert’s murals, which are on display on the west wall of the Grand Waiting Room at Union Depot. Concurrently, MMAA is showcasing an exhibition “Ralph Gilbert: Studies for Union Depot,” through December 7. The show includes selections from Gilbert’s preparatory work including 10 drawings, four watercolors, four oil sketches on panel, and nine oil paintings.
 
The niches at Union Depot that hold Gilbert’s murals are tall and narrow, measuring 16-feet high by six-feet wide, with arched tops. “The challenge for Gilbert,” according to a press release issued by MMAA, “was developing each composition within the unconventional proportions.”
 
The concurrent exhibition at MMAA’s Project Space, says Christina Chang, Curator of Engagement, MMAA, “presents a very small selection of Ralph’s extensive process, and also shows how he worked through ‘problems’ or compositional challenges. It’s a unique opportunity to see these materials so close at hand to the finished work.”
 
Gilbert’s subject matter includes the Mississippi River and the Dakota tribe that made way for white settlement; Union Depot’s historical connection to the former Rondo community; the arrival of European immigrants to Minnesota via Union Depot; and the deployment of soldiers from the Union Depot during two world wars.
 
MMAA’s collaboration with Union Depot represents a long-held desire to engage the Depot’s commitment to public art with MMAA’s dedication to strengthening its connection to Lowertown, Chang says. “The exhibition presented the perfect opportunity to do so. It’s rare to have an exhibition of preparatory work so close to the final piece, especially with public art, so we’re hopping visitors will take advantage of the opportunities to see both venues on the same trip.”
 
Chang adds that mural installation, in concert with MMAA’s exhibition, brings well-warranted attention to Gilbert and his work. “So often, artists are lost in the history behind public art.”
 
 
 

Sioux Chef brings indigenous cuisine to Minneapolis

Minneapolis-based chef and Oglala Lakota member Sean Sherman is about to open the Sioux Chef, a first-of-its-kind restaurant that will serve locally sourced “pre-colonization” cuisine. Sherman is in the final stages of selecting a space, most likely along Seward’s Franklin Avenue or along East Lake Street. He wants to be “as close as possible to the heart of the Twin Cities’ indigenous community,” he says.
 
Depending on the condition of the space, the Sioux Chef’s doors could be open as early as December, but the first quarter of 2015 is more likely. When the restaurant opens, Sioux Chef will be the first in the country to serve a menu comprised exclusively of regional indigenous dishes that only use ingredients available prior to first contact with European settlers.
 
Sherman’s approached means no wheat, soy or other staples we currently take for granted. In addition to bison, elk, duck, perch and other fish and game species—often dried or cooked over an open flame—Sherman will incorporate such native plants as wild rice, wild turnips, chokecherries and sumac berries.
 
His flavors and technique are pitch-perfect. Though indigenous populations were decimated during the 19th and 20th centuries, there remains a strong cultural memory among older Lakota, Ojibwe and others. “People constantly tell me that my dishes taste like what their grandparents made,” he says.
 
One concession to modern realities: The Sioux Chef won’t serve wild-caught game, says Sherman, due to a lack of available processing facilities capable of satisfying health authorities. The restaurant’s bison and elk, among other species, will come from nearby ranches.
 
Nor will Sherman be dogmatic in his approach. “First contact” is a blurrier concept than many realize, he says. For example, dandelions probably arrived on the Eastern Seaboard with the first wave of white explorers and spread across the continent within 50 years, far faster than the Europeans who brought them. So Native Americans may have cooked with them long before setting eyes on the first settler—and that’s good enough for Sherman.
 
The Sioux Chef concept arose accidentally, when Sherman—then La Bodega’s executive chef—decided to write a traditional Lakota cookbook. After some digging, he realized there was very little recorded information about what the Lakota ate before Europeans arrived. Most of the recipes he found were from the Southwest. Even those “were basically Tex-Mex with some Native influence,” he says. Supposedly authentic foods from the Upper Midwest, like fry bread, only appeared after the introduction of white flour and other European staples.
 
Traveling extensively across Minnesota and his native Dakotas, Sherman eventually pieced together an exhaustive list—“too many to count”—of native plants, fungi and game species used by pre-colonial populations. He also researched traditional preparation and preservation techniques, like meat dehydration.
 
Until the restaurant opens this winter, the Sioux Chef is a mobile catering and education unit. Sherman travels to food-, health- and Native American-themed events throughout the Twin Cities and the greater Midwest, serving locally sourced dishes (some of which may appear on the Sioux Chef’s restaurant menu) and explaining his approach to pre-colonization cooking. Recent appearances include a diabetes conference and traditional medicine gathering
 
So far, Sherman says, support for the Sioux Chef is beyond what he expected. He was in Ohio last weekend for Roots 2014, a major gathering of celebrity chefs and nutrition experts, and “a huge deal for the Sioux Chef’s exposure,” he says.
 
Public enthusiasm may lead to bigger things for the Sioux Chef. “After I get the restaurant going, my ultimate goal is to hone this business model and expand with additional locations under different names,” he says. Since naturally available ingredients vary so much from place to place—“even from here to the other side of Wisconsin, the availability is totally different,” he says—the food at pre-colonization restaurants would vary widely from city to city.
 
“It’s funny that you can get food from almost anywhere in the world [in the Twin Cities],” he adds. “The only food you can’t get yet is the food that came from right here.” Sioux Chef will change that.
 
 
 

Frame by Frame shop provides gallery space in Dow Building

Within the unassuming Dow Building at 2242 University Avenue in St. Paul are studios in which more than 30 painters, woodworkers, metalworkers and photographers create their work. Now an innovative framing business with a unique model is giving the inner creativity of the Dow Building an outwardly visible face.
 
Khanh Tran opened Frame by Frame in the building’s storefront in September and plans to have his frame shop double as a gallery for artists in the Dow Building. Rather than take a commission on works that sell out of the shop, he charges artists a flat monthly rate to display their work. So far, 16 artists from the building have taken him up on the offer.
 
A frame shop needs artwork to frame and display, while artists need a clean, sleek space to show and sell their work. “It’s a win-win for everybody,” Tran says. He designed the space with crisp white walls and professional grade track lighting.
 
As a tenant of the Dow Building for several years, Tran had been watching the storefront space for some time. He previously rented a small studio in the building to store his framing equipment while pursuing other interests. He developed relationships with many of the artists and makers in the building during that time, making the new gallery arrangement a natural fit.
 
Tran credits his entrepreneurial spirit to his parents. His father was a tailor, his mother a seamstress. Together, they built Tran’s Tailors, a chain of tailor shops throughout the Twin Cities. “They worked hard for it,” Tran says. “It’s not easy to open five businesses from nothing. That’s where I get my drive.”
 
The Trans’ family story of success in the face of adversity began on a boat in the Pacific Ocean in 1978. Looking to escape war-torn Vietnam, Khanh’s father saved what little money he could and bought a 30-foot boat. He boarded his 4-year old son and 20 other children and 10 adults to set out for a more prosperous life. “He wanted to escape Vietnam for the better,” Tran say.
 
The boat arrived in Japan and the passengers were moved to a refugee camp, where eventually they were given entry visas to the U.S. The family again packed up their belongings and headed for Bloomington, Minnesota, where Khanh’s uncle lived. Khanh Tran went to college and discovered framing as a potential profession. He stopped into a local gallery and asked if they needed help. “They hired me on the spot, taught me how to frame and taught me how to sell art,” he says.
 
Tran went on to open his own frame shop and gallery space in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis in a storefront across the street from the Northern Clay Center. He then moved to Montana with his wife. There he opened a successful automobile detail shop.
 
Now, back in the Twin Cities, Tran feels he’s landed in the right place to pursue his first passion: framing and selling beautiful original art. “The reason I continue is I like to see the art and I like to have a hand in making that art look even better,” Tran says.
 
 
 

CREATE: The artful meal and "food system intervention"

On September 14, 2,000 people will join artists and food activists at a half-mile long table down the center of Victoria Street in St. Paul as part of “CREATE: The Community Meal”—a public art project headed by artist Seitu Jones. Designed as a creative “food system intervention,” the project aims to lower barriers to healthy food access in some of city’s most densely populated and culturally diverse communities.
 
While a lot of work is being done in cities to address issues surrounding healthy food access, CREATE is taking a new approach. “We’re making this an artistic experience from the minute 2,000 people walk through the gate,” says Christine Podas-Larson, president of Public Art Saint Paul, which is orchestrating the project.
 
Everything will have an artistic touch, from the movements of the servers and hosts, which will be choreographed by Ananya Dance Theatre, to the blessing by poet G.E Patterson, right down to the 2,000 placemats handcrafted by paper artist Mary Hark using only bio-matter collected from the yards, alleyways and parks of the Frogtown neighborhood.
 
Spoken word artists including TouSaiko Lee, Deeq Abdi, Laureine Chang, Nimo Farah and Rodrigo Sanchez will perform original pieces with youth from Frogtown and Cedar-Riverside. Their work will investigate food traditions of the various cultures that make up the community.
 
Artists Emily Stover and Asa Hoyt are fabricating several Mobile ArtKitchens to demonstrate healthy food preparation around the city. They will be hosted by youth from the Kitty Andersen Science Center at the Science Museum of Minnesota and Youth Farm.
 
Chef James Baker, of Elite Catering Company and the Sunny Side Café—regularly voted best soul food restaurant in the Twin Cities —will prepare the meal with local ingredients grown specifically for the event by area farmers.
 
Guests will be presented with a healthy, locally sourced spread that includes 500 free-range chickens from a farm in Northfield, several vegetable dishes like collard greens and salad, an Ethiopian Bean dish from Flamingo Ethiopian Restaurant’s menu, corn bread and more.
 
Many of the growers, including those from Minneapolis-based Stones Throw Urban Farm and the Hmong American Farmers Association, are based in the Frogtown and Summit-University neighborhoods. The Minnesota Food Association is overseeing all the food production and sourcing.
 
“This is an opportunity for folks to meet their farmers,” Jones says. “Most of the funds are going into the pockets of farmers and artists. So this is an effort also to really pay attention to the local economy.”
 
Jones was inspired to put on this massive community meal while sitting in his storefront studio in Frogtown. He noticed an endless parade of people walking to the local convenience store and returning with bags of groceries. “Many times those bags would be filled not with fruits or vegetable, but with pre-packaged food,” he says.
 
Along with a group of local food activists, he received a grant from the USDA to do a food assessment of Districts 4, 5, 7 and 8 in St. Paul. He expected many of the obstacles the group found preventing residents from making healthy food choices, such as cost and convenience. One finding came as a surprise though.
 
“People don’t know how to make a healthy meal,” Jones says. “While we intuitively know what a healthy meal is, there are some folks that have lost the ability to prepare [one]…it wasn’t passed on.”
 
Jones began hosting small healthy community meals in residents’ homes, backyards and driveways more than a year ago, collecting “food stories” along the way. One story, told by Va-Megn Thoj, of the Asian Economic Development Association, chronicles his family’s journey across the Mekong River while fleeing oppression in Laos.
 
On arriving at a refugee camp in Thailand, he encountered a bright red fruit he had never seen before at a vendor’s stand. The vendor cut him off a chunk to try. The tart sweetness of every apple he has eaten since brings him back to that day, he says.
 
“We all have these food stories, and these stories are written in fats, carbohydrates and nutrients,” Jones says. “These stories go back for generations.”
 
Podas-Larson says Public Art St. Paul is also helping create community meal kits to help communities around the country host their own healthy meal events. Visit the CREATE website to donate, learn more, read more food stories and sign up to host your own table at the community meal.
 
“Food is so universal. Food is something that we all share, and most importantly…food defines us,” Jones says. “In many cultures, the way it’s prepared can be this act of love, and that’s what the community meal is. It is an act of love.”
 

C4ward opens doors to cultural districts along Green Line

The Green Line light-rail line opens doors to a number of emerging cultural districts along University Avenue in the Central Corridor. Throughout the rest of the summer and into the fall, C4ward: Arts and Culture Along the Green Line is inviting Twin Cities’ residents to explore six of these districts through a series of free arts-centered events occurring every other Saturday. The next event is Saturday August 9 in the Rondo and Victoria neighborhoods off the Victoria Station.

The series of events kicked off July 26 in the Little Mekong District during one of the five Southeast Asian Night Markets planned this summer. Other districts on the C4ward docket, in addition to Rondo/Frogtown, are Little Africa, Creative Enterprise Zone, Prospect Park and West Bank.

For years, University Avenue existed mainly as a thoroughfare—a place to be traveled through on the way to someplace else. The array of new cultural districts popping up is evidence that that area’s identity is already changing, says Kathy Mouacheupao, Cultural Corridor coordinator with the Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), which is organizing C4ward in partnership with leaders from each of the cultural districts.

“When you’re driving down University, people usually have their destination planned already—you really miss a lot of the richness, a lot of the cultural identities, the really cool things that are happening along the corridor,” she says.

Whether it’s the abundant entrepreneurs, artists and unique shopping in the Creative Enterprise Zone near the Raymond Ave. Station, or the string of African-owned businesses a short jaunt off the Snelling Ave. stop, C4ward is looking to draw new visitors to burgeoning points of cultural and artistic vibrancy that might have been previously overlooked.

“We’re trying to groove new patterns,” Mouacheupao says. “One of the nice things about the Green Line light rail is that people are starting to notice things they didn’t notice before when they were driving.”

The rich arts and creative communities that quietly thrive along the Central Corridor will be on full display at the C4ward events. From do-it-yourself letterpress printing to illuminated mask making, Mouacheupao says the artists involved are dedicated to engaging and building community. “We all live and breathe art,” she says. Art is one way in which “we communicate with each other.”

 

Made Here/Parklot activate Hennepin Avenue

Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis continues to become more pedestrian-friendly and arts-oriented. Made Here, an outdoor urban walking gallery featuring dozens of unique art installations in vacant storefronts, launched last week alongside Parklot, a colorful pop-up in the surface parking lot next to the Orpheum Theatre. Both are part of Hennepin Theatre Trust’s 10th annual Summer in the City event.

Joan Vorderbruggen, Hennepin Theatre Trust’s cultural district arts coordinator, directed Made Here. Her Made Here showcase is the largest storefront- gallery initiative in the country. The current Made Here is the third and most ambitious show. It includes more than 50 artists and arts organizations from diverse disciplines, which have created 36 unique storefront displays across 15 city blocks.

Both projects are part of the Trust’s ongoing initiative to revitalize a cultural district that includes the historic Orpheum, State, Pantages and New Century theaters, as well as other arts and cultural institutions such as First Avenue and The Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts.

On paper, the area seems a vibrant and walkable downtown district. But it suffers from a perceived “unevenness,” says Tom Hoch, Trust president, citing a 2010 survey and strategic planning session. Contributing to that unevenness are blocks of vacant storefronts and surface parking lots interspersed among the cultural institutions.

“No Vacancy,” a poignant Made Here installation by artist Robin Schwartzman, speaks directly to this issue. The work spans 18 windows across the second floor of the recently vacated Chevy’s building at 701 Hennepin Avenue. Blank paper covers the windows during the day while a neon sign reads “Vacancy.” Once the sun sets, the sign changes to “Sorry, No Vacancy,” and the windows come alive with animated silhouettes depicting scenes of people dancing, someone getting their hair cut, and other activities.

“When a space is vacant, it’s a void, and when it’s not, it’s vibrant,” Vorderbruggen explains, describing how “No Vacancy” relates to the overall project.

Similarly, Parklot activates an otherwise dormant space. A brightly painted checkerboard pattern covers the parking lot’s surface, extending on to the sidewalk and up the walls of adjacent buildings. Lush planters and configurable park furniture made from wooden pallets make the pop-up public gathering space tough to miss. Programming includes improv comedy from Brave New Workshop, break dancing and musical performances.

Four additional pop-up parks are planned for this year. The current Made Here installations are on display through October, and include a work from the Somali Museum of Minnesota—the only such museum in the country—that incorporates two authentic huts shipped from Djibouti, as well as other artifacts and art demonstrating traditional nomadic life.

Vorderbruggen says she intentionally ensured the Made Here art and artists reflect the diverse Twin Cities population that would encounter the work. More than 40 percent of the artists represented come from communities of color, she says.

She and Hoch also hope art installations in vacant storefronts become commonplace. “This is not a one-time thing,” Hoch says. “This is the way we hope all vacant storefronts in downtown Minneapolis are handled—that they are always programmed and that we have this connection with art, artists and space.”

“Downtown is everybody’s neighborhood,” he adds. “We’re providing opportunities for everybody to be here.”

 

Alchemy Architects adds third prefab module to school

At Cornerstone Elementary School on the Montessori Center of Minnesota's (MCM) campus on St. Paul's East Side, innovative architecture and design are creating a unique learning environment that fits a holistic curriculum serving the school’s 160 students.

A 157,000-pound hydraulic crane recently dropped a new modular classroom into place, completing a 3-year, 25 percent expansion of the public charter school that is part of the MCM program. Total cost of the expansion is $1.45 million, including landscaping and a greenhouse.

The 1,500-square-foot prefabricated classroom is the third to be installed on the property and will house one of the school’s two upper-elementary classes (grades 4-6). The other upper-elementary classroom and one lower-elementary classroom are housed in two other modular classrooms installed during previous years. The other lower-elementary classroom is housed in the main structure on campus.

Lining the property’s natural wetlands, the three modular classrooms were designed by St. Paul-based Alchemy Architects whose weeHouse design and construction system specializes in prefabricated energy-efficient structures.

The unique classrooms support MCM’s philosophy of providing the best for the smallest in developing students rich in “character, will and spirit,” according to Liza Davis, special programs coordinator at the school. The classroom structures feature large windows that bring the natural setting directly into the learning environment.

“The response of the children—when they can sit and watch the change of the seasons or ducks laying their eggs—from the windows in their classroom has been pretty remarkable, especially for the urban children,” Davis said.

A teacher training organization since 1973, MCM wanted to expand its outreach and elementary education, which led to the relocation of the center to its current site in 2008 and the addition of Cornerstone Elementary in 2011.

The school is focused on providing excellence in education and youth development to diverse communities that often face barriers to quality education. More than 60 percent of the student population qualifies for free or reduced lunch, according to Davis.

The use of modular classrooms has practical advantages, as well. They provide a financially savvy way to gradually expand facilities as the school grows over time.

“The charter school very quickly needed to have more space to really serve the number of children it needed to serve,” Davis said. “We needed to expand the campus and have beautiful spaces but still be financially responsible.”

Being able to expand in an affordable way that adds a valuable layer of education makes MCM’s expansion unique. The modular classrooms incorporate all facets of the curriculum in the same space with science facilities, and even a kitchen built into the structures.

“You really feel like you are in a living community space, not just a classroom that is separated into sections,” Davis says.

As with the previous installations, students and their families watched the new structure get hoisted 30 feet into the air and set in place. Davis says the design and installation process give students a sense of ownership over their learning environment.

As an example, the patios off the classrooms needed a good bit of shoveling during winter. Davis says the students were eager to pick up shovels and get to work taking care of their space.

“Seeing that something is intentional, that it’s beautiful, and that there are natural materials involved…helps communicate the same philosophy that drives our work with the children,” she adds.

 

Open Streets debuts proposed greenway in North Minneapolis

The 2014 season of Open Streets Minneapolis kicked-off during the last weekend in May with festivities along a proposed three-and-a half-mile greenway in North Minneapolis. Roads were closed from West Broadway to North 42nd avenues along North Girard and Humboldt avenues for residents and cyclists to experience first-hand how a new bike/walk route would look and feel.

“The proposed greenway could provide a recreational and community route for bicyclists, pedestrians and other non-motorized travelers,” said Sarah Stewart, senior public health specialist with the City of Minneapolis, who is working on the project. “The route would serve as a north-south connection for bicyclists who are more comfortable on bikeways” than on the streets.

Sponsored by the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, the event hosted vendors, performances and bike advocates from across the Twin Cities, giving riders a festive environment to roam the streets sans vehicles.

Turf was laid down on either side of the street at one point in the route to show a full linear park greenway. At another point, half the road was partitioned off, turning the current two-way street into a one-way road with a protected bike lane.

These are two of several models being considered for the new route. A third would keep two-way traffic, but designate the streets as bike boulevards—adding signage and other traffic calming measures friendly to bicyclists.

The City of Minneapolis, which became an official partner of the Open Streets initiative last year, is currently gathering public input about the new route, which has yet to be finalized or funded.

In addition to providing a centrally located route for commuters, connecting them to the northern suburbs via the Cedar Lake Trail and the downtown area via the Plymouth Avenue and 7th Street North bike routes, Stewart says the project would also create a space for people to be physically active.

“This is important because statistics show North Minneapolis residents are more likely to have chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure, and they are less likely to be physically active…People who live closer to parks and green spaces are more physically active,” Stewart says.

The proposed route would also connect several destinations that serve area youth like parks, schools, a YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club, and a library, Stewart added.

Most of the roads along the proposed route are relatively low-traffic, residential streets that see between 400 and 900 cars daily, according to Stewart.

Several residents along the route expressed concern about losing street access to their homes should the streets be converted to a full linear park greenway. Stewart says alley access to residences along the route would be maintained. Input via an online survey indicated the proposed greenway is a potential draw for new residents, visitors and investment in North Minneapolis.

People can provide input on the proposed project through June 15 by filling out an online survey. The City will analyze the input and report the results in early fall. Feasibility studies are also underway.

This Open Streets event was the first of six planned for this summer in Minneapolis. The next will take place June 8 along Lyndale Avenue South.

Artspace Jackson Flats opens to families in Northeast Mpls

Last weekend, with the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District abuzz with Art-A-Whirl—the largest annual open-studio art tour in the country—the scene was set for the grand opening of Artspace Jackson Flats. The $10 million, 35-unit, live-work artist apartments in Northeast are the first affordable artist housing project in the city from the Minneapolis-based national nonprofit, Artspace.
 
With a large lawn and playset on the property, which is located in the Logan Park neighborhood, Artspace is billing the new property as family-friendly—something president Kelley Lindquist says is something of a rarity in the city.
 
“It’s a little more challenging for young parents to have kids in intense downtown projects…it’s just much easier when the residence is neighborhood-based,” Lindquist says.
 
Children can often lend to the creative and collaborative environment Artspace seeks to foster. Kids are often the first to break down communication walls, running through the halls and forming relationships with other children in the building.
 
“Eventually the parents start hanging out and start sharing their different artistic skills and coming up with new creative projects—and they may never have done so without their children paving the way,” Lindquist says.
 
Other Artspace projects like the Frogtown Family Lofts in St. Paul—the organization’s second project ever, completed in 1991—are also good examples of children spurring collaboration in creative environments.
 
Artist and Jackson Flats resident April Barnhart, who launched her Aprilierre jewelry line in 2009, says she is already benefitting from the artist community developing in and beyond the building.
 
“It’s really not an easy decision when you decide to commit your life to the arts,” she says.  “Having the right resources and the right workspace are important to cultivate creativity.”
 
Being in close proximity to other creative people has advantages as well. Barnhart experienced these benefits first hand when she ran into a neighbor in the building who heard she was a jeweler. He happened to have a set of glass display cases he no long needed and thought she could put them to good use.
 
“They were exactly what I’ve been looking for in antique stores for years,” she said.
 
As much as Jackson Flats was built for artists, it was also a product of the artist community to begin with. When former Northeast Community Investment Cooperative Executive Director John Vaughn sat down with the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association in 2004, the organization’s goals were specific: First, to create and arts district, and second, was to build artist housing.
 
“We took that heart and that became our mission,” Vaughn says. He brought in architects from UrbanWorks Architecture to a neighborhood meeting where he talked with artists and residents of the area about what they wanted from the building that would become Jackson Flats.
 
As residents threw out ideas, the architect drew them into a design. At the end of the hour-long meeting, the sketch had taken shape. “This building very much looks like it was originally envisioned,” Vaughn said. “It comes very much out of the arts community and out of this community here.
 
The opening of Jackson Flats was part of Artspace’s “Breaking Ground” celebration, which began with a creative placemaking symposium featuring grantees from the St. Paul Companies Leadership Initiatives in Neighborhoods program at the new multi-family residence.

The celebration concluded Monday at an event at the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts (another Artspace project) during which Artspace presented numerous awards. The awardees included Catherine Jordon of Minneapolis, recipient of the Paul Brawner Award for Support of the Arts.
 
 
 

Cycles for Change bikes into underserved neighborhoods

The bicycling renaissance in the Twin Cities is in high gear. Minneapolis and St. Paul are both working to expand already respectable bicycling infrastructures, and more residents than ever, from all walks of life, are getting around town on two wheels. But, as Jason Tanzman of Cycles for Change in St. Paul is quick to point out, “the reality is the bike movement is a white movement.”

That’s something Cycles for Change, a nonprofit community bike shop bordering the Frogtown and Summit-University neighborhoods, is looking to change.

“Our vision is to build a diverse and empowered community of bicyclists,” says Tanzman, the director of development and outreach for the organization.

In addition to a full service retail and mechanic shop, Cycles for Change offers a host of programming designed to build a resilient and diverse community around bicycling—and it is quickly gathering momentum.

In 2013, the organization lent out 290 bikes from their Bike Library by partnering with community and civic organizations from around the metro to pair eager riders from low-income areas with new sets of wheels for 6-month leases. Riders in the Bike Library program also get a complimentary helmet and lock, and training to be confident and safe on the roads.

The Build a Bike Class brought in 120 area youth who constructed their own bikes from the ground up, learned how to maintain their bikes and mastered the rules of the road before riding out the door, according to Tanzman. Cycles for change also mentored 12 youth apprentices last year—many of them now help design and run the organization’s programs and retail shop.

Many of the people joining Cycles for Change represent populations Tanzman says are not adequately represented in the bicycling movement. The fastest growing groups of bicyclists nationwide are people of color, according to a report by the League of American Bicyclists.

From 2001 to 2009, the percent of all trips that are by bike in the African-American population grew by 100 percent. Trips by Asians-Americans grew by 80 percent and Hispanics took 50 percent more trips by bike during that period, while whites saw a 22 percent increase, according to the equity report.

When it comes to making decisions about where new bike lanes will go or advocating for how new bike trails are designed, people of color and people of low socioeconomic status aren’t adequately represented at the table, Tanzman says.

“No matter how many people of different racial groups ride bikes, there is an underrepresentation of people from low-income communities and people of color in the decision-making bodies,” Tanzman said.

In many ways, these are groups that would particularly benefit from improved bicycling infrastructure. “A bike is a way to save money,” he says. “A bike is a way to live a healthy life.

According to Tanzman, 25 percent of the households in the Cycles for Change neighborhood don’t have access to a car. “Then of those other 75 percent that do, they might have one car in the household, and maybe it’s not that reliable, maybe it costs a lot of money to gas it up every week,” he says.

“There are so many natural opportunities to build alliances and really make the bicycling movement a multi-racial, multi-ethnic movement that it’s not right now.”

Cycles for Change is hosting a Spring Celebration Monday May 19 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 pm at the shop, 712 University Avenue East.

Night market debuts June 14 in St. Paul's Little Mekong

The vibrant blend of sights, smells, sounds, and people milling together at Southeast Asian night markets can be a vivid sensory and cultural experience. This summer, the Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA) is bringing a slice of that life to the Twin Cities.

Throughout the summer, AEDA will hold five outdoor night markets in the Little Mekong business and cultural district of Saint Paul, between the Mai Village and Little Szechuan restaurants on the 300 block of University Avenue. The first market will be held June 14, the same day the Green Line’s light-rail service begins.

The Little Mekong district is home to a high concentration of Asian residents and businesses. Of the almost 80 establishments on the five-block stretch of University between Mackubin and Marion streets, about 75 percent are Asian-owned according to a 2013 AEDA study documenting the impact of Central Corridor Light Rail Transit on the area.

Many of these small businesses were hit hard by light-rail construction over the last several years, according Theresa Swaney, AEDA’s communications coordinator. AEDA hopes to bring needed visibility, and customers, to businesses still reeling from the disruption. Swaney also hopes the night markets will help breathe new life into the area as a nighttime destination. “It’s sort of shifting the idea of what’s acceptable, and possible, at night,” she says.

Like farmers markets, the Little Mekong night markets will host local farmers selling fresh produce, but also up to 30 different vendors selling specialty food, art, and crafts. “It’s sort of this mix between a festival and a farmers market,” says Swaney. “It’s going to be a little more entertaining and a little more exciting than just getting your vegetables.” Artist organizer Oskar Ly is planning live performances, art, and activities as part of the market.

Organizers are currently looking for businesses and vendors located from throughout the Twin Cities to participate. Unlike many markets, applicants don’t have to be established. “We’re pushing toward new vendors,” Swaney says. “We want these people to have an opportunity to sell their stuff, and if they do well, maybe draw them into opening a brick-and-mortar business in the district or along University.”

AEDA also hopes the night markets will help lay ground for a new public plaza and community gathering space at the site. A rundown building used mostly for storage currently sits in the middle of the plot. The organization recently held a series of workshops and community meetings to gather input on redeveloping the site.

Source: Theresa Swaney
Writer: Kyle Mianulli

ARTIFY transforms Midway lot into public art site

One year ago, the former Midway Chevrolet car dealership at 1333 University Avenue was yet another vacant lot along the Central Corridor—a remnant from a previous era when car dealerships dominated the Midway area of Saint Paul. Today, the lot stands as a colorful, artistic sign of things to come.

Over the past year, artist/organizer Oskar Ly has been working on a large-scale public art project at the site dubbed “ARTIFY—Bringing the Arts to Hamline Station.” Her project aims to create a renewed sense of place around the site ahead of a 108-unit affordable housing development, which Project for Pride in Living plans to break ground on this spring.

Ly brought community members and more than two-dozen local artists together to create 20 public art installments and 11 performances at the lot—all based on the theme “Home is…” She says the goal is to signify the transformation of an abandoned business to a place people would soon call home.

ARTIFY capped-off its yearlong project with a final celebration, “Midway is Home,” last Saturday. Artists reflected on their work, while spectators toured the grounds to view the various installments. Poetry for Thought, a local effort to inspire community dialogue through spoken word performances, organized area poets to present original works and spark discussion of what “home” means.

Janell Repp, a Saint Paul native, has lived all over the world, most recently in India. For her, home is often changing, she says. She once purchased a car at the Midway Chevrolet dealership. “I sat in this office and signed the papers,” she said. “It’s funny how time changes…you make your home where you are… and you keep moving through time.”

The most visible installation to passerby is a large mural painted at the Saint Paul Open Streets event last summer. It depicts a row of colorful houses over the façade of the old dealership with the words “Home is Hamline Midway” printed across the top. Another piece involves 108 house-shaped wood cutouts decorated by area youth with their own ideas of what “home” is.

Mischa Keagan and Witt Siasoco held several workshops at the Hamline Midway and Rondo libraries where people traced places they considered home on large green canvases that are now on display at the site. “All along people talked about their family, their kids, their homes, and their dogs…it was a really nice way to get to know people in the community,” Keagan said.

Most of the art installments will remain on display till demolition begins this spring. Ly says she has at least one more project planned. She hopes to hang large photos on the fence surrounding the construction site this summer. “I want to create a façade that helps create an environment that’s more community-oriented than if it was just a construction site,” she said.

The future PPL development will feature a public plaza to display art, thanks in part to the ARTIFY project, according to Ly.

ARTIFY is supported by Irrigate Arts, an artist-led creative placemaking initiative that seeks to foster a new sense of place through public art along the Central Corridor. Irrigate is made possible through a partnership between the City of Saint Paul, Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and Springboard for the Arts.

Sources: Oskar Ly, Janell Repp, Mischa Keagan
Writer: Kyle Mianulli

Rock Star Supply Co. in chapter development with 826 National

Rock Star Supply Co.’s busy location, in the Creative Enterprise Zone at the corner of Raymond and University in Saint Paul, is about to get busier. The educational nonprofit—its dedicated volunteers tutor elementary- and secondary-school children on writing, algebra, and other subjects—is working with San Francisco-based tutoring company 826 National to bring one of that organization’s signature “stores” to the Twin Cities.

Rock Star is currently a lively tutoring workshop that offers “a range of programs, all free of charge…[that] focus on project-based learning, homework help, [and] extra-curricular reading, along with spectacular writing prompts and smaller writing workshops,” according to its website. This summer, Rock Star’s headquarters, as part of 826’s new franchise-style expansion initiative, will be rebranded as the “Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute.”

What? The name does make sense. Here’s why. In its 10-plus years, 826 National has developed a clever, family-friendly approach to branding. Each tutoring center (it currently has eight, mostly in major Northern cities) doubles as a store with an unmistakable “angle.” For instance, Boston’s “Bigfoot Research Institute” sells cryptozoology books and paraphernalia.

Chicago’s “Boring Store” doubles as a “Spy Supply Store.” (The “boring” part is meant to throw passers-by off the trail.) Seattle’s “Space Travel Supply Company” sells rocket equipment, space suits, and other accessories to “freelance space travelers.” Each store plows its merchandise earnings back into its tutoring operations. So how did the Twin Cities become home to the Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute?

“We went through an extensive ideation process to arrive at Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute,” says Jeremy Wang, chair of Rock Star’s Executive Board. “We’re playing off the idea that, to most of the country, we’re a ‘fly-over’ state, hence the Mid-Continent. And while we have a lot of coastline, none of it is oceanic.” Wang’s thrilled at the prospect of opening a “sub shop” that doesn’t sell anything edible.

The expansion also comes with challenges. “Our biggest hurdle is to be financially stable enough to build out the storefront and sustain our current programming,” says Wang, noting that the organization has traditionally relied on donations from individuals and foundations. Razoo and upcoming Kickstarter campaigns are providing a crucial shot in the arm.

What can kids, parents, and shoppers expect from Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute, née Rock Star Supply Co.? “I think nearly everyone involved at Rock Star Supply Co. has been inspired by the 826 model,” says Wang. “So we don't really see our programming changing a whole lot as we transition.”

That said, Wang does expect Rock Star to add more writing workshops as the transition date approaches. And there’s the issue of merging educational programming and retail activities. “Unlike other 826 sites, we started without a storefront,” says Wang. “They mostly started their programming at the storefront, then worked their way into schools.”

For now, the folks at Rock Star are working to retain their core mission without neglecting the coming transition. For Wang and the rest of the board, this means seeking help wherever they can find it. “We are always looking for tutors in any subject, especially algebra,” he says, “as we have a whole group of students that comes in for Algebra 2 on Tuesdays.” Rock star math tutors: Take note.

Source: Jeremy Wang
Writer: Brian Martucci

An effort to recognize prominent black Minnesotans at significant locations in St. Paul

St. Paul’s Heritage Preservation Commission is looking at the possibility of putting up several “Old Rondo” street signs in the city’s neighborhood of the same name.  

Frank White, a lifelong St. Paul resident and a history buff, put forward the proposal as a way to symbolically recognize the neighborhood’s history, particularly as it relates to some high-achieving black Minnesotans, according to the Pioneer Press.

White has worked to set in motion several other initiatives in this same vein. For starters, he wants to get more name recognition for Toni Stone Field, a baseball stadium in the Dunning Athletic Complex. This includes mounting a related plaque and sign at the stadium, according to a story from the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.

He’s working on similar projects to get more name recognition for Toni Stone, one of the first female players in Negro league baseball, athlete Jimmy Lee, for which the Jimmy Lee Recreation Center is named, and Dred Scott, a slave who famously argued for freedom in a case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.  

The Heritage Preservation Commission adopted a resolution on February 14 supporting the effort to add and correct the "Old Rondo Avenue" signage, "as it will be a more accurate reflection of Rondo Avenue and allow for greater interpretation of the impacts of the construction of Interstate 94 to this neighborhood," information from the body reads.  

Next, White's proposal will go before the City Council, though the timeline for that is yet to be determined, according to Amy Spong, a St. Paul official who works with the commission.

City Council member Melvin Carter III says, “It went further than what we’ve acknowledged publicly so far to honor the community that exists here in St. Paul. It’s a good thoughtful approach to making sure that we honor our past while building our future together.

“I think Frank has done some important work,” he adds. “It’s always important to understand what history holds.”

It’s about getting a better handle on the future, says Carter, “so young folks who’ve grown up in this community can be aware of the rich set of accomplishments of others and can factor that in as they calculate the prospects for their future.”

Reflecting on White’s hard work, he says, “I appreciate everything he’s done,” adding, “I wish more people were as thoughtful and would look around and come up with ideas to make the city a better place.”

Sources: Amy Spong, City of Saint Paul; Melvin Carter, III, St. Paul City Council
Writer: Anna Pratt


Butter Bakery settles into new space

Just over a week ago, the Butter Bakery Café relocated blocks away from 36th and Grand Avenue in Southwest Minneapolis, to 37th and Nicollet Avenue.

The bakery is planning a grand opening for Oct. 23 in collaboration with the Nicollet Square building, for which it’s a partner, according to owner Dan Swenson-Klatt.

Butter is housed within the three-story Nicollet Square, which provides supportive housing for young people who are at risk for homelessness, along with a chiropractor and the nonprofit organization, Twin Cities RISE!, which deals with job training.

As a part of that partnership, the bakery has taken on a couple of apprentices who live in the building, and it plans to bring on two more young people in the near future, he says.

“I’ve always thought of this as more than a little coffee shop,” he says. “This gives me more of that feel, that it’s part of something bigger.”   

However, the bakery is still getting settled into the space. It’s a bit like moving into a new home, “where you live out of boxes for awhile,” he says.

So far, the change has been good. He’s hearing from regulars that “It’s so big and so bright,” in comparison to the old space, but “It still looks like Butter.”  

Before, the bakery was too cramped, both in terms of seating and space for running the bakery and grill at the same time.

Now, people can opt for the more informal café area of the bakery or they can go for the dining space. “No one has to feel like they’re being pushed out,” he says.

The space, which started off as an empty shell, was designed specifically for Butter, with room for growth.

One custom touch that he hopes personalizes the space includes two murals that line the restroom walls.

The murals picture the countryside surrounding the creamery where the bakery gets its butter and the scene outside of Butter’s door. “It’s a way of connecting with the Butter community,” Swenson-Klatt says, adding, “We were always meant to be a neighborhood spot.”  

In the future, he hopes some sort of garden might spring up on the empty lot behind the building.

Source: Dan Swenson-Klatt, owner, Butter Bakery Café
Writer: Anna Pratt    

Gateway Food Initiative receives $10,000 matching grant

Earlier this month, the Gateway Food Coop received a $10,000 matching grant from the Food Coop Initiative (FCI), a national nonprofit organization that promotes the cooperative economy.

Gateway was one of 10 coops across the country to get the seed funding, according to Gateway information.

The coop, which began organizing last year, wants to bring a sustainable, natural foods coop to St. Paul’s diverse East Side.   

Elizabeth Butterfield, who co-chairs the coop’s steering committee, explains the way the grant works: “For every dollar we spend of the Seed Grant money, we are expected to spend a dollar of our own money.” The money will go toward community outreach and member-owner recruitment efforts, including hiring a part-time community organizer.

Additionally, FCI will provide expertise to the coop, “noting if there are techniques that can be repeated in other similar areas throughout the country,” she says.

This kind of relationship building is important for meeting its goals, according to Butterfield. For example, shortly after finding out about the FCI award, "We were approached by Mississippi Market to compete for a $14,000 gift,” which will be given out in October, she says. “Their members will vote to award the money to three out of five nonprofits that are competing for the funds.”

Separately, Phalen Ovenworks is hosting a wood-fired pizza party to benefit the coop on October 6.

The place also raises money for the coop through bread sales on Sunday nights.  

So far, the coop has 84 members, a number it hopes to grow through events this fall. But at this point, it’s too early to say where on the East Side the coop might be go. The coop has yet to do a thorough market study, Butterfield says.  
 
 
Source: Elizabeth Butterfield, organizer, Gateway Food Coop
Writer: Anna Pratt


 


'(re)locate: A Place to Call Home' exhibit documents diverse local community

Many neighborhoods throughout the Twin Cities have become increasingly diverse in recent years, yet the back-stories of different groups’ arrival so often are unknown.

The current show at the Third Place Gallery in Minneapolis, which is the studio and exhibit space of photographer Wing Young Houie, focuses on representatives of various immigrant communities, including some political refugees, whose stories vary greatly.  

Called (re)locate: A Place to Call Home, the show brings together images from Houie and another local photographer, Selma Fernandez. It'll be on view through Aug. 16.

The 22 images from both photographers are intermingled on the walls, as opposed to being separated, visually, Houie says. It includes a mix of color and black-and-white shots.

Adults and children are shown in their natural habits, such as home, school and work, in and around the Twin Cities.

One young boy is pictured up close wearing a bright red superhero outfit. Alongside that is a black-and-white print of a young boy holding a sign that states, “I want to be a doctor.”

In another picture, a couple wearing traditional dress stands out amid a festive-looking crowd at the 2002 Hmong new year celebration in St. Paul in 2002.  

In some ways, each of the subjects is in costume, he says.

Together, the poignant images pose questions such as “What is home? Do you ever leave home? What does relocate mean?” The answers are especially complicated for immigrants, Houie says.

It’s a familiar topic for Houie, who is the only child in his Chinese family to be born in U.S. Often he gets asked where he’s from, even though he’s a native Minnesotan.

Throughout his work, he tries to “normalize iconography,” showing everyday examples of the reality, which is a lot more colorful than is shown in the mainstream media, he says.

 
Source: Wing Young Houie
Writer: Anna Pratt

University Avenue corridor to be called 'Little Africa'

Too often, people pass by the businesses on Snelling Avenue, near University in St. Paul, without stopping.

As one way to change that, the African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS) group is leading an effort to brand the district that spans Snelling Avenue between University and Minnehaha avenues as “Little Africa.”

Soon, the Central Corridor light rail transit line will run through the area, but in the meantime, the construction has decreased foot traffic in the district and beyond.

Bruce Corrie, who is a business professor at Concordia University in Saint Paul, explains that the branding campaign comes out of the broader, nonprofit-driven World Cultural Heritage District. This emerged as a way to help businesses stay afloat during the light rail construction on University.

The idea is to make the area a destination for ethnic tourism. Here, “there’s a growing presence of African Americans,” he says, adding that it includes about 20 immigrant businesses.

Further, “African immigrant groups are very dynamic and entrepreneurial,” he says. “We want to capture that.”

It follows other similar branding efforts along different segments of University, including “Little Mekong” (see The Line story here) and the African American Cultural Corridor.

The districts would also relate to similar areas in Minneapolis and Brooklyn Park.  As it is, “There’s not a strong cultural infrastructure in Minnesota,” he says, adding that it’s an opportunity. “We’re trying to tap into the global market.”

While encouraging more people to come to the district, another goal is to “develop the cultural capacity,” he says.

Eventually signage will come to indicate the district visually.

“One challenge is to get the attention of policymakers,” to help bring more resources to the area, he says.

Recently the district rolled out a voucher program, offering $5 coupons to district shoppers. Also, the Snelling Café will host a free book exchange through its new Little Free Library, which it’s celebrating with a July 27 luncheon.  

Source: Dr. Bruce Corrie, Professor of Business in the College of Business and Organizational Leadership, Concordia University
Writer: Anna Pratt

Cycles for Change expands with $30,000 grant

Last month, Cycles for Change, a nonprofit bike shop, celebrated its expansion along University Avenue in St. Paul.

The shop, which has been around since 2001, strives to increase bike access for low-income and underserved populations in the surrounding neighborhoods, according to its website.

It has grown a lot over the past few years, and it needed more space to accommodate that, according to development and outreach director Jason Tanzman.

To carry that out, recently the shop, which was formerly known as the Sibley Bike Depot, received a $30,000 grant from the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative

As a part of the project, the shop added 600 square feet to its existing 3,000 square feet, he says.

Through the project, the administrative area and workshop (where customers can work on their bikes), got more space, he says. The retail section moved to the storefront area while the walls got a fresh coat of paint and the floors were refinished.   

The shop has also been able to get improved signage for better street-level visibility, which is especially important considering the challenges of Central Corridor light rail transit line construction, he says.

Prior to the expansion, the bike shop was a bit out of the way in the building, he says.

Besides the phsyical changes, the place was able to increase its retail hours.   

All in all, the changes “enhance our ability to be a community organization and promote biking as a way to get around in combination with public transit," he says. 

Despite the momentum around biking right now, it can still be cost-prohibitive, especially for minorities and low-income people. “We need a level of intentionality about it so it’s not an upper-middle-class white thing, and that we’re able to expand the circle of who has access,” he says.   


Source: Jason Tanzman, development and outreach director, Cycles for Change
Writer: Anna Pratt

With $3,000 in startup funds, Our Village Gardens helps transform a former brownfield site

This spring, Frogtown Gardens got to work on a new community garden at a former brownfield site in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood.

It took $3,000 to set up the 30-plot community garden, called Our Village Gardens, according to Patricia Ohmans, who is a spokesperson for Frogtown Gardens.  

Frogtown Gardens is a nonprofit organization that’s in the process of establishing a demonstration farm park and sanctuary in the neighborhood.

Financial support for the water, materials, compost, and mulch at Our Village Gardens came from Terry and Margie Commerford, who own the land, she explains. The couple runs the River of Goods home decor shop and Terrybear Urns and Memorials out of a new development on the site.

A combination of neighborhood volunteers and employees of the Commerfords’ businesses cultivate the plots, she says.   

The gardeners are a diverse group, including Hmong, Somalis, Latinos, Vietnamese, African Americans, European Americans and others. “There's lots of energy and cross-pollination among them,” Ohmans says.

“We still need to do a lot of beautification around the communal spaces of the garden,” including the butterfly garden, rose border, and raspberries, “but the garden is already a great success and a truly diverse stomping ground.”  

Frogtown Gardens also sponsors Amir's Garden, a permaculture demonstration garden on a vacant, privately owned lot, along with the Pop-Up Tree Park, which is a temporary tree nursery on a city-owned lot in the neighborhood.

Amir's Garden's excess produce will go to the local food shelf, according to Ohmans.

“We are also closely tracking the production of that garden, to get a sense of how much food can actually be grown on a household lot,” she adds.


Source: Patricia Ohmans, Frogtown Farms
Writer: Anna Pratt

Following a $6 million capital campaign, the Minnesota African American Museum opens its doors

The Minnesota African American Museum and Cultural Center, which has been in the works for a handful of years, had its grand opening in Minneapolis’s Stevens Square neighborhood on June 2.

The museum, which is housed in the historic Coe Mansion, is about “celebrating and presenting African American history for all populations,” its website states. 

Roxanne Givens, one of the museum's founders, credits the local community for coming up with the idea. Many people "felt not having a record of the many contributions African Americans made to Minnesota history and beyond, was a major impediment to community engagement, self-esteem and achievement,” the website states.

The concept was there, and a place was needed to “fulfill our mission of a sustainable History and Cultural museum of Local, National and International importance.”

In answer to that, one day Givens and another founder, Harry Davis, wound up near the 1880s Queen Anne-style mansion by chance. It struck them both as the perfect venue for the museum they'd been talking about, according to its website.

To make it a reality, Givens spearheaded a $6 million capital campaign for building renovations. This included improvements that would accommodate exhibits in the space, while also allowing for accessibility. At the same time, the building's historic designation meant that its defining characteristics had to be left intact, the website explains.

Currently, exhibits in the space cover black baseball, the state's African-American pioneers, and African folktales.

The children’s space, which takes up an entire floor, includes an interactive learning and play space, reading lounge, library, high-tech touch-screen exhibits, and artifacts.  

Yet to come is an adjoining cultural and educational center that will have state-of-the-art technology, learning labs, a genealogy center, community gallery, oral history center and more, it states.

City Council member Robert Lilligren, who represents Ward 6, which includes the museum, says he's been supportive of the project since the get-go. Further, the Stevens Square community has "welcomed it with open arms as a cultural asset," he says. "They think it's a very positive addition to the neighborhood."

On a broader level, it enhances "a whole string of cultural assets along Third Avenue," which also includes several other museums.

Also, from a historical perspective, "The center swath of South Minneapolis was the first part of the city to integrate racially," so it's appropriate that the museum go there, he says.


Source: Minnesota African American Museum and Cultural Center; Robert Lilligren, Minneapolis City Council
Writer: Anna Pratt

A communal garden by a coalition of neighborhood groups in the works for the diverse Phillips area

The 24th Street Urban Farm Coalition in Minneapolis’s Phillips neighborhood will have its first official workday in its “communal” garden on May 19.

Phillips resident Sammie Ardito Rivera, who is the outreach and education coordinator at Dream of Wild Health, a 10-acre native farm in Hugo, belongs to the volunteer-driven coalition.   

The coalition is a joint effort of a number of community organizations including the following: Ventura Village Neighborhood Association, Indigenous Peoples Taskforce, Women’s Environmental Institute, Waite House, Indian Health Board, and Native American Community Clinic, along with Dream of Wild Health.  

It’s an opportunity for these organizations to do a demonstration farm that will help community members, especially American Indians, learn how to grow food, she says. That education is needed in the native community, which has high rates of heart disease and diabetes, Rivera adds.   

People will work in the “communal” garden collectively. “It’s not a community garden in the plot sense,” she says. “It’s more of a teaching opportunity for people who aren’t ready to grow their own food but want access.”

Nearby, a couple of other "communal" gardens are also in the works (see The Line's story here).

Planning for the 24th Street garden began last year, involving some minimal plantings last growing season. “This summer we hope to expand and have a more solid presence there,” she says.

The undeveloped piece of land, which the Indian Health Board owns, will be farmed temporarily. The Indian organization may have plans for the lot further down the line, she explains.

At the same time, the gardeners are also hoping to expand the farm in the future into a nearby lot that the city owns.

Right now, the farm is still fleshing out the details, she says, adding that for now, it’s on the lookout for rain barrels.

Source: Sammie Ardito Rivera, member of the 24th Street Urban Farm Coalition
Writer: Anna Pratt

Little Mekong brand helps draw people to the Central Corridor

In recognition of the unique Asian businesses and other cultural institutions along University Avenue in St. Paul from Galtier to Mackubin streets, the area is being branded as Little Mekong.

It’s an initiative that the local Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA) launched on Feb. 25.

The name references the Mekong River, which is a major river in Southeast Asia, according to Va-Megn Thoj, who heads the AEDA. “Most businesses in the area have a connection to the river,” he explains.

In his view, “By giving a name to a destination which has existed for a long time, we can draw more people into the area.” This is especially needed during Central Corridor light rail construction, he says.  

Already, as a result of construction obstacles, many of the businesses are seeing less foot traffic, he says.

With the Little Mekong branding, “We want to build on what we have,” which he describes as “an attractive destination for people to get introduced to Asian cultures and cuisine.” Although the district has been around informally for a long time, not too many people are familiar with it, he says.

Besides improving the streetscape and putting up district-related signage, Little Mekong will host a number of events, including family-friendly festivals.

AEDA is also working with businesses to create incentive programs to bring in more customers, including coupons and other deals, and to handle increased traffic. “We’re working with businesses to strengthen their operations and customer service,” he says.

The coming Central Corridor represents “a tremendous opportunity to create something of benefit to the neighborhoods and city and region," he adds.

Source: Va-Megn Thoj
Writer: Anna Pratt

Phillips neighborhood group strives to make 'communal' gardens

Neighbors Connecting for Action in Phillips (NCAP), a new community group for Minneapolis’s Phillips neighborhood, is organizing a couple of “communal” gardens in the area.

Unlike the typical community garden structure where people sign up for a certain garden plot, participants will pool their efforts in the project, according to Jude Ortiz, an NCAP representative. “We’re coming together as neighbors to grow plants for each other,” he says, adding, “It’ll be collaborative, based on what people can do.”   

One garden at 28th and Portland Avenue South will focus on perennial plants, including various native species.

NCAP has an agreement with the Sustainable Resources Center in Northeast Minneapolis to work the land, according to Ortiz. There were gardening efforts there in the past, but there's been nothing in recent years, he says.

A second garden at 26th Street and 13th Avenue South, which has a longer, more fruitful history, will grow produce.  

To get the gardens going, the group has been pulling together community members. It's planning  meetings at both places for April 15. Attendees will begin discussing the design of the gardens at these gatherings.

Because NCAP is working without much of a budget, they’re trying to get as many donations of supplies and plants as possible. Already, “There’s a lot of interest and creativity going into it,” Ortiz says.

NCAP sees the gardens as “important to restore the urban ecosystem” and to provide access to healthy, organic food. It’s also an educational opportunity, helping the community become more self-sufficient, he says.

Further, having this kind of green space “creates an oasis in the city for people and other species,” he says.

Source: Jude Ortiz, NCAP
Writer: Anna Pratt

Local group plans solar projects, training in Nigeria

Next week, a group of local energy experts will head to Nigeria for 10 days to lead solar training.

The Minnesota Renewable Energy Society (MRES) in Minneapolis developed the “Light Up Africa” project through its two-year-old international committee. The group will make its first stop at an area hospital, where they’ll show workers how to install a 60-watt solar module lighting system, according to Fran Crotty, one of the committee’s co-chairs. 

Their exact itinerary couldn't be shared as of press time.

Committee members will also teach people to put together a solar cell-phone charger and build a soldering station and a solar panel, according to MRES information.

“Technology transfer is mainly what we do,” Crotty says.

Besides helping set up energy-efficient infrastructure, the trainings will “provide the opportunity for [Nigerians] to do a small cottage industry” if they want, she adds.

“We provide technical information that’s always linked to economic development,” she says.

For example, entrepreneurs could start a small business charging cell phones or using solar power for grinding, the MRES website states.

The group will help Nigerians figure out what to build by “listening to them and letting them shape what they want.”

“Solar projects would be helpful in many countries that have problems with unreliable electricity, unsafe lighting, deforestation and poverty,” the MRES website states.

MRES is working with a nongovernmental organization in Nigeria. A couple of committee members happen to be from Nigeria, including Harry Olupitan, who says on the MRES website that the project is a part of a lifelong dream. “My vision is to see every household in Nigeria and in all of Africa at large powered with electricity powered by solar energy,” he says.

Source: Fran Crotty, Minnesota Renewable Energy Society
Writer: Anna Pratt

Historical project explores Sabathani Community Center's impact in South Minneapolis

A project launched last week, entitled "We are Sabathani," will document the impact of the longstanding Sabathani Community Center in South Minneapolis through words and art.

The Council on Black Minnesotans and the Minnesota Humanities Center have partnered in the project, with funding from the state Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

Sabathani, which brings together everything from a food shelf to after-school youth programs, has long been a community gathering place, according to Anika Robbins, who is leading the project along with retired Judge LaJune Thomas Lange.

Already Robbins and Lange have started collecting oral histories and artifacts, such as newspaper clippings and other writings related to Sabathani, all of which will end up in a traveling exhibit. They're also cataloging the center's extensive art collection.

In the 1960s, Sabathani originated as a church. Back then, churches were often a “pivotal point for bringing communities together,” Robbins says. Before present-day types of nonprofit organizations and community centers were created, "Churches were activism-involved and they helped push social change,” she adds.

Later Sabathani evolved into a community center at its current location, which was formerly a junior high school. It became “an avenue for children, to keep them engaged,” Robbins says, adding that she has fond youthful memories of the place herself.

These days, it’s also a hangout for seniors, and some of its original founders participate in events; this, she says, “is a story in and of itself.”

Robbins is excited about the opportunity to capture these stories, which she hopes will help people to “understand the fabric of the community they come from.” The place has hosted “so many people from different walks of life, who grew up in the area or came through the doors for various reasons,” she says, adding, “It continues to be a beacon in the city.”  
 

Source: Anika Robbins, "We are Sabathani"
Writer: Anna Pratt

Photographer Wing Young Huie explores intersections in four neighborhoods

Local photographer Wing Young Huie, who is well known for his public art installations that explore everyday life in the city, is trying to line up funding for a new project, called, “We Are the Other."

It centers on strangers who cross paths within the four-neighborhood area surrounding his gallery, The Third Place, at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis. He also lives in the neighborhood.

“The Other” refers to people who “know each other slightly, but for whatever reason or perceived difference there is a barrier in getting to know them well,” he states in project materials.

“We Are the Other” builds on “The University Avenue Project,” which also forged connections between near-strangers, he says.

As a part of the recent project, which turned the St. Paul avenue into a six-mile public gallery, Huie used a series of questions to prompt conversations between residents.

He asked students in a school, for example, to go outside of their social circle, and to pose questions to one another such as, "What's your favorite word?" or "How do you think others see you?"

He documented them in black-and-white photos that feature their chalkboard scribbles. 

Similarly, for his current project,Huie is bringing random people together, either on the street or at a business or a community organization, with the chalkboard.

The photographer will also host related workshops to encourage others to do the same.  

Eventually, the project, which will incorporate photos from the workshops, will take the form of a “mobile community art center,” changing locations every week or so.

Altogether, it advances the idea behind The Third Place, which is also a sociological term that describes informal places where people congregate outside of home and work.

“Making connections, getting outside of our bubble, is where the idea of 'The Other' came from,” he says.

“In the times we live in, everyone wants to be connected but it’s so difficult to be connected. This is an era that’s made face-to-face interaction difficult.”

Source: Wing Young Huie
Writer: Anna Pratt

$315,000 goes to new community soccer field for Cedar-Riverside neighborhood

On Sept. 12, a new youth-sized synthetic-turf soccer field opened at Currie Park in Minneapolis's Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

It replaced a nondescript grass and dirt field that buckled up in some places, according to Park Board commissioner Scott Vreeland.

The soccer field is a part of a larger, ongoing effort to improve the park’s facilities, including expanding the existing Brian Coyle Community Center. “Folks at Brian Coyle had been advocating for more resources,” he says.

To make the soccer field a go in the short term, Hennepin County provided a $295,000 grant from its youth sports program, which is funded by the Target Field ballpark tax, while the Park Board contributed $20,000, according to park board information.

Other collaborators included the Pillsbury United Communities, West Bank Community Coalition, and Cedar Riverside Youth Council.

More informally, the community’s elders helped figure out how to install the field to best serve the children. They also got the community behind it. “It’s a thing people wanted. It wasn’t particularly controversial. Everyone saw it as a win-win,” he says.  

In a diverse area where reaching a consensus can often be difficult, the soccer field is a visible community-building place where people “can go and meet people and kick the ball around,” he says. “It inspires me when I go by.”

He hopes the field gets used a lot. “It gives the opportunity for people to put aside their differences and get together in one space.”

Stewart Park has already gotten similar improvements while East Phillips Park is next.


Source: Scott Vreeland, commissioner, Minneapolis Park Board
Writer: Anna Pratt

Bruner Loeb Forum highlights stronger communities through art and design

At the recent Bruner Loeb Forum in Minneapolis, a mix of speakers stressed numerous community development initiatives that take art into account in ways that are both concrete and philosophical.

The Bruner Loeb Forum, which originated at the Harvard Design School, is a biannual gathering that brings to the fore "innovative strategies from across the nation that leverage local engagement in art and design to build more equitable, more economically sustainable, and more connected neighborhoods and cities," according to program materials.

The two-day event in Minneapolis was titled, "Putting Creativity to Work: Stronger Communities through Locally Rooted Art and Design." As it unfolded at various local venues, it brought together a crowd of that included local and national designers, scholars, planners, artists, nonprofit representatives, government officials, and others, program materials state.

Juxtaposition Arts hosted the event in partnership with the University of Minnesota's Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) and landscape architecture department, Nexus Community Partners, 4RM+ULA architecture, and Conway+Schulte Architects.

At the conference, speakers touched on everything from Houston's Project Row Houses to the ability of artists to turn around declining neighborhoods. Attendees toured the North and South Minneapolis neighborhoods, where Juxtaposition Arts and Native American Community Development Institute are working to improve the areas.

DeAnna Cummings, who heads Juxtaposition Arts with her husband, Roger, hopes people will get serious about addressing racial disparities. "They have to be addressed if we'll ever manifest our potential as a community," she says. "We all have to work together to change it."

She cites a couple of examples of the kind of creative problem-solving that came out of the exercise. In examining West Broadway Avenue North, from the Mississippi River to Penn Avenue North--as  part of a creative mapping activity--conference participants concluded that the plethora of youth-oriented programs is too poorly advertised, while artistic streetscape enhancements need to be more visible.

She says that the event's speakers discussed the importance of pulling together diverse groups of people to solve problems and build on opportunities. Instead of getting the best and brightest people, who tend to be like-minded, "more effective is a team that thinks differently, that envisions challenges through different lenses," she says.  

Cummings says she was impressed with the level of energy of conference-goers. While she and others are still "unpacking" the takeaways, follow-up events are in the works, including a Juxtaposition mural to go on Broadway and Emerson. Students will work with professional artist mentors "to bring what happened at the conference out onto the street."   

Source: DeAnna Cummings, Juxtaposition Arts
Writer: Anna Pratt






St. Paul's West Side hopes zoning helps bring 100,000 Cinco de Mayo visitors back for more

More than 100,000 people crowd into the West Side neighborhood for St. Paul's annual Cinco del Mayo celebration. The area's appeal as a place for shopping, entertainment and doing business the rest of the year should get a boost, now that the commercial zone collectively called District del Sol has gained Traditional Neighborhood (TN) zoning status.

That's the hope of local businesses and residents who pushed for two years to get TN zoning, says Roxanne Young, commercial development manager at Riverview Economic Development Association (REDA).

A big reason TN zoning has had support on the West Side is the mixed-use development it allows: a veterinary clinic with the doctor living upstairs is an example Young offers. That's a common pattern along St. Paul's most vibrant commercial street, Grand Avenue, she says, and TN zoning has a good track record of encouraging pedestrian-focused development along other neighborhood corridors such as Rice and Arcade streets.

Design guidelines that accompany TN zoning will also come in handy as REDA pursues redevelopment of the District del Sol's major intersection at Robert and Cesar Chavez (Concord) streets. It's a gateway from downtown St. Paul just across the Mississippi River, yet with its vacant buildings and vacant land Young says it's been "blighted and underutilized for more than 20 years."

TN zoning has residential and commercial neighbors "looking at opportunities opened up for mixed-use development," she says. That would add a reason for visitors to return to an area where, Young says, for most businesses Cinco de Mayo stands as "one of the main ways to recruit new audiences."

Source: Roxanne Young, Riverview Economic Development Association
Writer: Chris Steller

Name your drink with $500 donation to coming Rondo coffee cafe

Nieeta Presley envisions a day sometime soon when a new coffeeshop at University and Dale in St. Paul will offer a "Frogtown with Two Hops of Rondo."

If you have a better name for a drink, Presley invites you to put your money where your mouth is. The organization she directs, Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation (ASANDC), is planning to open the Rondo Coffee Cafe in the new Frogtown Square mixed-use building. For a $500 donation, ASANDC will assign any name you like to a beverage on the menu.

But Presley says the real purpose of the cafe is not to create new drinks but to be a generator of social enterprise -- hiring and training people who have trouble getting work elsewhere and helping folks learn how to start their own businesses.

The cafe's name recalls the lost, lamented Rondo neighborhood, home to St. Paul's African-American community before the construction of Interstate 94 destroyed it almost half a century ago. The Rondo Coffee Cafe will serve as a mini-museum to the memory of Rondo, Presley says.

To that end, supporters may donate lesser amounts to have their family photo from Rondo displayed on the cafe's walls or on top of a table. She wants to include stories with the photos.

The kind of photo customers might see is one that's been offered already from 1954 when Hubert Humphrey was re-elected to the U.S. Senate. The donor's dad--an African-American weighing more than 300 pounds--is shown seated in a wheelbarrow that's being pushed by a "little white guy" up Cathedral Hill, as Presley recalls it. The two had bet on the outcome of Humphrey's Senate bid, and the photo documents how the bet was settled.

Eventually the display could grow to include memorabilia of community life since Rondo Avenue disappeared, Presley says, to answer the question, "What happened next?"

Source: Nieeta Presley, Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation

Writer: Chris Steller


National African-American bicyclist group gives Twin Cities paths a spin

When the National Brotherhood of Cyclists finally held a long-discussed "summit" of African-American bicycling groups from around the country, they chose to come to the Twin Cities. And while here last weekend, they held the Twin Cities Urban Bicycle Festival, believed to be the nation's first African-American-themed bike fest, as part of St. Paul's Rondo Days.

The Brotherhood is the national organization of Major Taylor bicycle clubs--named for the 19th century Indiana man who was cycling's first African-American world champion. The bike summit drew cyclists from Major Taylor clubs in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Nashville, Oakland, and Columbus, Ohio, according to Louis Moore of Minneapolis, president of the Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota.

All knew that Bicycling magazine had recently named Minneapolis the country's best bike city, Moore says. And most had heard of the Midtown Greenway bicycle and pedestrian route that crosses Minneapolis. On a 40-mile group ride starting in St. Paul, the Greenway's Martin Olav Sabo Bridge was one of the highlights--particularly for Moore, who was an aide in former U.S. Rep. Sabo's district office for 20 years.

"I was his bicycle man," says Moore of his years pushing bike projects for Sabo's Minneapolis district. "I taught him how to sit on a bike." (Growing up on a farm didn't leave Sabo time for biking, Moore explains.)

Are the Twin Cities' predominantly African-American neighborhoods underserved by bike facilities? Yes, says Moore. North Minneapolis, for example, has few bike routes, with more planned but not funded. Moore says that's due to the work of vocal advocates from other parts of town, adding that the North Side is slated to get a bike/walk center, funded in part with federal dollars, within two years.

Source: Louis Moore, Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota
Writer: Chris Steller

Reviving a sense of place is goal of American Indian Cultural Corridor

"I believe if you have a sense of place, you have a better sense of direction," says Lemoine LaPointe, who directs the Healthy Nations Program at the Minneapolis American Indian Center. "A sense of place was already created here hundreds of years ago."

Reinvigorating that sense of place for Indian people on Minneapolis' Franklin Avenue is the purpose of an effort called the American Indian Cultural Corridor, started last year by the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI).

LaPointe made his comments for a video NACDI produced to promote the cultural corridor concept, a vision of economic vitality and Native identity along a street that has been, for going on a century, a major focal point of American Indian urban life.

NACDI has taken that vision high-tech via an animated video that swoops down Franklin, starting at Cedar Avenue, current site of the American Indian OIC (AIOIC).

But the organization has taken a very concrete step as well, purchasing a headquarters building at the eastern end of the corridor, at Bloomington and Franklin avenues, with the AIOIC. Meanwhile, New Native Theatre has formed, offering reading series and planning a full production in 2011.

In some ways the vision is a throwback to what Franklin Avenue was like in the early decades following the federal government's relocation of Indian people to cities, when a full spectrum of goods and services was available to serve the immediate community. Now NACDI wants to see that richness return, this time fueled by Indian ownership and entrepreneurship.

Source: Lemoine LaPointe
Writer: Chris Steller

"Careership" program has minted 110 developers to serve communities of color--with more to come

Minnesota's population became much more diverse from 1970 to 2000, but over that time most of the people working in development in communities of color had one thing in common: They were white.

People from within those communities could use a leg up to join and diversify the local professional-development ranks. That was the impetus behind a yearlong training program that Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC) began in 1997. Since then 110 developers have graduated from the Careership program, with as many as three-quarters going on to work in the field of community development.

This year, 12 people are taking part in the program; as many as 70 apply annually. They earn a stipend $12,000 while putting in 15 hours each week at a sponsoring organizatio --usually a nonprofit but sometimes a government agency or a for-profit developer. There, and at monthly seminars and consultations with an executive coach, they learn the ropes of building community through development work.

For about 35 percent of the participants, that development work is the bricks-and-mortar sort, says senior program officer Barbara Jeanetta. Housing and commercial development has remained a core activity for students and graduates of the program. But people from communities of color and immigrant groups understood that "it was not just about physical development," Jeanetta says. "They innately knew it was much more integrated." That means that many work on building more intangible kinds of community assets--employee training, youth development, and home-buying, for example.

Careership is especially helpful for people who lack a college degree and have "spotty" work records due to time spent caring for a parent or child, Jeanetta says. These people often don't have a professional network, but they start to build one over their year at the Careership program.

Source: Barbara Jeanetta, LISC
Writer: Chris Steller

Catalyst helps business get out of the spare room, onto Broadway

Calvin Littlejohn had had enough of running his small construction business out of a spare bedroom.

Since founding Tri-Construction, Inc., in 2001, Littlejohn and business partner Lester Royal had made the move from residential to commercial construction. But they were still "Mickey Mouse-in' it," as Littlejohn puts it.

That's why he likes their new office at 1200 W. Broadway, a building developed by Catalyst Community Partners.

"We can have clients come over to the office, use the conference room. It adds another layer," he says. "That much more professionalism."

Catalyst is a developer with a mission: reviving business along commercial avenues in the most troubled urban areas, particularly along West Broadway on Minneapolis' north side. That's where Catalyst lays claim to more redevelopment (in partnership with board member Stuart Ackerberg's The Ackerberg Group) than any other developer.

That's also where Littlejohn went looking for office space so he could move Tri-Construction out of his home. "We wanted to stay in North Minneapolis," he says, but suitable space was hard to find on West Broadway. "I don't think there was anything."

Tri-Construction has also won contracts with Catalyst. The firm's minority-owned status brings opportunity, he says, but not business, which requires performing better than everyone.

"The thing I like about what Catalyst does is, they see a need within the community, development that needs to take place," Littlejohn says. "They are coming in, putting their money where their mouth is. Put [buildings] in, allow commerce to do the rest."

Source: Calvin Littlejohn, Tri-Construction, Inc.
Writer: Chris Steller

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