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Block E's "Made Here" exhibit highlights vibrant local arts scene

Artists in Storefronts began a several years ago as a grassroots project to highlight the possibilities for vacant storefronts in Minneapolis’s Whittier neighborhood.

A number of local artists working in diverse mediums created artistic window displays that turned the street into a kind of public gallery.

It went over well, and now Joan Vorderbruggen, the project’s driving force, is bringing the same concept to downtown Minneapolis with Made Here, a showcase of local artists in 40 windows that wrap around the Block E complex between 6th and 7th streets on Hennepin Avenue. The unconventional group show, which opened late last month, will be on view through early 2014. 

Besides re-imagining the shopping and entertainment mall that has emptied out in recent years, Made Here draws attention to the up-and-coming Hennepin Cultural District. Although the district is in early stages, it's already well known for the theaters that line the avenue, Vorderbruggen says. The Hennepin Theatre Trust, Artspace, Walker Art Center and the city are sponsors of the Block E project.    
Already, the artwork, which includes an eclectic mix of everything from wooden handicrafts to “light drawings,” has transformed the avenue, Vorderbruggen says. From the street, the window--of which are illuminated--are a striking display. They're also fun to look at close-up, she says, adding that she likes to people-watch as passersby encounter the work.  

One group of paintings and illustrations by Mary Jane Mansfield speaks to the importance of family, she says. Photographer Gina Dabrowski's snapshots predate the former Block E building’s razing. It just so happens that the image hangs in front of a rundown kitchen, which harkens back to the old Block E that's pictured in the photos, she says. 

Block E has its challenges, but the response to the artwork has been encouraging, Vorderbruggen says. For example, a downtown commuter told her the exhibition has improved the experience of waiting at the bus stop in front of Block E, which faces Hennepin Avenue. She’s heard from security guards that random strangers are striking up conversations about the art. One day Vorderbruggen watched two young children pretend to be in a forest against the backdrop of Ann Klefstad’s whimsical tar-on-plywood greenery.

Passersby can also read through historical information relating to the avenue’s early days; the Hennepin History Museum produced some documents from its archives for the show. Poetry mounted on the old movie theater’s marquee, provided by writers from The Loft Literary Center, is another nice touch. Besides the imagery and text on view 24/7, tunes by local musicians come through outdoor speakers.    

It was an ambitious endeavor, but Made Here came together in a mere six weeks, following smaller-scale seed projects. The exhibit lends itself nicely to the cultural district, which emphasizes the avenue as a playground for all types of art and cultural experiences, Vorderbruggen says. People can take in a Broadway show and then check out the public artwork on foot, or vice versa, she adds.  

It’s still early in the show’s run, but it's already a success on more than one level. “It was a whole city block in downtown that was dark. We illuminated it,” she says. “We’re injecting beauty there.”  

Source: Joan Vorderbruggen, artist coordinator, Made Here
Writer: Anna Pratt 
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