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Transforming Central Project Updates High School's Landscaping and Exterior

When classes started at St. Paul’s Central High School this fall, students were greeted by new improvements to the building’s exterior, including an outdoor classroom, vertical bike racks and landscaping. The improvements were part of a community effort led by a group of parents and volunteers behind the Transforming Central Project.
 
The Transforming Central Project grew out of discussions in 2011 at the Central PAC (Parent Advisory Council) meetings about simple ways parents could spruce up the campus. Initially, the group of volunteers dubbed themselves the “beautification committee,” and made small changes around the grounds such as planting bulbs and perennials.
 
The same year, the group decided to survey the Central community about what further changes they would like to see to the landscape. The committee then took those results to the Metropolitan Design Center at the University of Minnesota, which created a document of potential design concepts for Central. This document later helped the committee discuss the vision with the wider Central community, community councils and city council members; it also helped them acquire grants for funding the project.
 
The updates coincide with Central High School’s sesquicentennial. Established in 1866, Central is Minnesota’s oldest operating high school. “The first conversations in 2011 centered around ways we could soften Central's exterior to help it appear more welcoming,” says Lisa Heyman, one of the co-project managers. “We have always felt that the Central community is very welcoming in the building, and the drab concrete exterior did not accurately reflect that warmth.”
 
Heyman and the rest of the team at the Transforming Central Project organized a grassroots community effort to get input, raise funds and gain support for the changes at the high school. Some of the environmental updates focus on improving runoff, which included a new filtration design, tree trenches, rain gardens and permeable pavers. New trees better fit the site’s soil conditions. There are more outdoor seating areas, and as a new paved path leading students to the school bus pickup and dropoff area.
 
The transformation was truly a result of building relationships with the community and created what was needed. “All of the changes to Central have been inspired by comments and suggestions from teachers, students, parents and community members,” Heyman explains. “Our hope is that the community as a whole will enjoy the new space and find it more accessible.”
 

CHDC breaks ground in new affordable-housing project for homeless veterans

In 2006, Community Housing Development Corporation (CHDC), a Minneapolis nonprofit developer and owner of 44 affordable-housing properties, opened a project for homeless veterans. Next to the Minneapolis VA Medical Center in South Minneapolis, CHDC and partners renovated four former officers’ quarters and constructed two new buildings to create 140 affordable units for homeless vets.
 
“That project was incredibly successful,” says Elizabeth Flannery, CEO, CHDC. “Since it opened, we’ve regularly had a waiting list of more than 300 people.”
 
Six years ago, CHDC staff began talking about expanding the 2006 building. “In addition to the waiting list, which needed to be addressed with more affordable housing, we learned that the veterans community is huge and has a range of needs,” Flannery says. “We also learned we need more support services than we originally projected.”
 
“Moreover, when vets finally have housing they can afford, they have the opportunity to think about what’s next, whether that’s counseling, employment, getting their VA entitlements in order or getting treatment,” she adds. In other words, “Housing is critical. Housing is a foundation to everything.”
 
Last week, CHDC and partners broke ground on Veterans East. Located adjacent to the 2006 project, near the Blue Line light-rail station, Veterans East will include 100 affordable units, and will provide on-site support services for health care, case management, life skills, financial management, VA benefits, and education and employment resources.
 
UnitedHealth Group, based in Minnetonka, is the project’s largest private investor; the organization is providing $5.2 million in equity using low-income housing tax credits approved by the State of Minnesota. The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, which finances affordable housing, is providing $7.7 million in deferred loan funds. Additional funding comes from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines, Hennepin County, affiliates of CHDC, and $290,000 in energy and sales tax rebates.
 
Eligible veterans—those who have experienced chronic homelessness—will pay 30 percent of their income toward rent. When completed in Summer 2017, Veterans East will provide permanent supportive housing for veterans struggling with homelessness.
 
The five-story, energy-efficient building, designed by LHB Architects, will also have a community room with a fireplace, a kitchenette and laundry facilities. In addition to its transit-friendly location near the VA Hospital, Veterans East will be adjacent to Minnehaha Park, and near Lake Nokomis and other area amenities.
 
Since January 2015, Minnesota has kept a registry of homeless veterans to help identify opportunities for housing and other services. So far, 600 vets have been housed, but many more remain homeless. “Once vets get housing they can get work,” Flannery says.
 

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.
 

 
 

Minneapolis' C-TAP: Free Assistance for Co-Op Founders

The City of Minneapolis is launching a free technical assistance program for budding co-op founders, starting with a two-hour presentation on April 20th.
 
Dubbed C-TAP (Cooperative Technical Assistance Program), the initiative is an outgrowth of the city’s successful B-TAP (Business Technical Assistance Program) for aspiring small and midsize business owners. Like B-TAP, C-TAP is an immersive program designed to support co-op founders and supporters from ideation through opening—and, in some cases, beyond.
 
According to the City of Minneapolis, C-TAP will unfold over three years, in three steps.
 
Step one, happening this year, focuses on “co-op readiness planning” for “groups that are thinking of forming a Co-op…to get a clear picture of the legal, operational and organizational requirements.” It’s basically a crash course in what it means to start a co-op.
 
Step two, set for next year, will focus on “board member and organizational design.” That means training prospective board members in the basics (and nuances) of co-op governance, as well as “one-on-one technical assistance” for select co-ops that require guidance designing their organizational structures. Step two is available to not-yet-open co-ops and existing co-ops that want or need outside assistance.
 
Step three, set for 2018, will revolve around “sustainability [and] profitability.” In other words, setting and keeping newly opened co-ops on the path to stable, long-term profitability and prosperity.
 
C-TAP’s kickoff event, a two-hour presentation dubbed “The State of Co-ops in Minneapolis,” is scheduled for April 20, 5:30-7:30 p.m., at Open Book in Downtown East. The presentation will discuss the city’s current “co-op inventory” and the industries supported by Minneapolis co-ops, introduce and explain C-TAP, and discuss next steps for co-op founders and principals interested in participating.
 
On May 11, Step one officially gets underway with an eight-week “co-op feasibility” course. Held at the City of Minneapolis Innovation Center in the Crown Roller Mill Building near City Hall, the course’s eight sessions will cover the basics of the co-op development process, co-op business plans, finances, cooperative governance, legalities and other topics. Registration is free and open to the public, but prospective co-op groups need to have at least two participants and have selected a product or service to offer prior to signing up.
 
The City of Minneapolis is no stranger to co-op support. According to city government, Minneapolis has plowed some $3.5 million into local co-ops through existing development and support initiatives, and has an additional $850,000 outstanding in loans to three in-development co-ops—including Wirth Cooperative Grocery, a first-of-its-kind grocery co-op in the city’s underserved Northside, slated to open later this year.
 

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."
 

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.”
 

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.”
 
 
 
 

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."
 

Goodwill targets millennials with Gina + Will concept

Goodwill Easter Seals Minnesota is giving itself a millennial-friendly makeover with its new Gina + Will concept resale store in Dinkytown, located at 1324 5th Street Southeast on the ground floor of the new Venue at Dinkytown apartment complex.
 
With the recent surge of new student housing developments near the University of Minnesota, Goodwill is going after the college-aged crowd, which is more concerned with style than brand recognition—though name brand apparel is featured prominently in Gina + Will’s collection.
 
For the time being, Goodwill seems to be well positioned in the Dinkytown market where the only other clothing retailer is Goldy’s Locker Room, which only carries University of Minnesota Gopher’s merchandise.
 
“Dinkytown is not just a place where you go for entertainment or a night out,” says Mary Beth Casement, a spokesperson for Gina + Will. Dinkytown “is increasingly a place where people live, and if it’s where they live it’s where they’ll be shopping.”
 
Gina + Will isn’t the typical thrift store bargain-hunters would recognize from the more than 35 other area Goodwill locations—mostly located in the suburbs. In fact, the nonprofit Goodwill is looking to move away from the “thrift store” label altogether, says Casement.
 
Shoppers won’t find household appliances, sporting goods or furniture at Gina + Will, but rather a carefully curated collection of fashionable apparel and accessories at bargain prices, says Casement.
 
Nothing about the new shop looks like a thrift store, either. The color palette consists of turquoise, lime green and purple. Chandelier-like light fixtures give the shop a notably more upscale atmosphere than exists at traditional locations.
 
Armed with a team of college social media mavens supplied through the local social marketing agency Social Lights, the new store is relying heavily on social media to get the word out about its new Shop + Share concept, which encourages shoppers to share their finds with their online networks.
 
A selfie wall with four interchangeable background panels sits right outside the dressing rooms. A large screen in the store displays filtered posts to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, with the hashtags #GWFinds and #GinaPlusWill.
 
“Our perspective is that information is already being shared…we wanted it to be front and center,” Casement says.
 
At 2,700 square feet, Gina + Will is almost one-tenth the size of a traditional Goodwill store and costs about 30 cents on the dollar more to build out. The store currently stocks about 70 percent women’s apparel, but that could change depending on sales demographics in the early phases, Casement says.
 
The Gina + Will concept doesn’t skip the altruistic aspects of shopping at Goodwill. The Minnesota-based Goodwill-Easter Seals is one of 160 Goodwill agencies nationwide that specializes in preparing disadvantaged people for the workforce.
 
“By finding a second use for stylish items, Gina + Will contributes to a sustainable environment,” said Debbie Ferry, senior vice president of real estate and new store development in a prepared statement. “Since sales will support our mission of preparing people for work, customers know their purchases have a purpose.”
 
 
 

Wander North brings more micro spirits to Minneapolis

Wander North Distillery recently became the latest micro-distillery to open in Minneapolis, when owner Brian Winter cut the ribbon at the new location in Northeast Minneapolis with City Councilmember Kevin Reich.
 
Thanks to legislation passed in 2011 that significantly lowered a $30,000 annual permit fee for distillers in Minnesota, Winter says he was able to turn his long-time interest in the history of spirits and drinking in America into a viable business.
 
“Liquor production is tied hand-in-hand with the rise of the United States,” Winter argues. “Unlike brewing and beer, there hadn’t been the resurgence of locally produced spirits yet.” Minneapolis’ first micro-distillery, Norseman, opened last year.
 
Wander North’s first spirit, Outpost Vodka, is made from 100 percent Minnesota grown corn sourced from a supplier in Rosemount. Referencing the mutually supportive craft brewing community in Northeast, Winter says he is also pursuing plans for collaboration with local craft brewers, including Northgate Brewing, which recently expanded into a new space in the same building.
 
He hopes to take the wort (liquid extracted during the mashing process prior to adding yeast or hops) from Northgate’s Maggie’s Leap stout, ferment it, distill it and then age it in oak barrels. He would then hand the barrels back to Northgate to age the same beer in. “Then, sit and taste the whiskey and beer side by side,” he says. Winter is pursuing a similar collaboration with Sociable Cider Werks.
 
The state also passed legislation this past spring that allows for distilleries to have paid tasting rooms. The wait now is for Minneapolis to change its ordinance to allow for it, which Winter says is in the works.
 
Once the regulations are in place, Winter plans to launch a cocktail lounge on site. The lounge will feature two or three seasonal mainstay cocktails, along with several others that change on a weekly basis. “We’ll be limited to what is made at the distillery. But vodka is a pretty versatile starting point,” he says.
 
Wander North will donate at least 1 percent of its profits back to the community with an emphasis on veterans programs. Winter has served in the U.S. Military since 1993. Twelve of those years were on active duty, including as a platoon leader in Baghdad in 2004 and as a company commander in 2007. He currently serves as an assistant engineer officer with the Minnesota National Guard one weekend a month.
 
“A small business like Wander North is local. We pay local taxes, sell to people in the community and live in the community,” he says. “Why, if my business is successful, would I not want to give back to the community that helps me succeed?”
 
 
 

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.”
 

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.
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