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Aimia's move to downtown Minneapolis adds momentum to 2025 Plan

The Minneapolis Downtown Council recently announced that Aimia, a consumer loyalty and engagement management firm, would move its U.S. headquarters, along with more than 300 employees, to a 50,000-square-foot space in the North Loop’s Butler Square building. Aimia previously occupied space in a Plymouth office park near I-494.
 
Aimia is the latest company to relocate, expand or retain space in downtown Minneapolis since the launch of the Minneapolis Downtown 2025 Plan. Other notable companies include CenterPoint Energy, Valspar, XCel Energy, Olson and Be the Match. Three years into the Downtown 2025 Plan, the momentum is palpable.
 
“Aimia saw the merits of moving downtown...and all the opportunities and progress on display here right now,” says Steve Cramer, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council & Downtown Improvement District. “Our mission is to create an extraordinary downtown.”
 
One of the core goals of the Downtown 2025 Plan is to create a more vibrant, energetic downtown for workers, businesses and residents. Another goal is to accelerate economic and cultural progress by eliminating the either/or distinctions between those three categories. The plan recognizes that a truly world-class downtown core needs a diverse mix of uses, and a high density of people, ideas and economic activity.
 
“Cities with a strong central business district thrive because they have companies, big and small, working in close proximity [and collaborating] with clients and partners,” Cramer says. “When the area as a whole succeeds, it creates new opportunities for everyone involved.”
 
The addition of thousands of new residents has raised downtown Minneapolis’s profile, too. With a broader, more creative pool of potential recruits within walking or biking distance, talent-driven companies like Aimia find it much easier to justify the temporary cost of moving downtown.
 
“Our population has risen to more than 37,000 people,” Cramer says, “and we’re seeing apartments and condos under construction across the area.” The increasing density of creatives downtown dovetails with other Downtown 2025 Plan initiatives, including the recently announced Minneapolis Idea eXchange and a street beautification partnership with the University of Minnesota’s College of Design.
 
Aimia’s move is just another sign of how far downtown Minneapolis has come. “For the first time in decades, we’re seeing an incredible trend of people moving in toward the downtown area,” Cramer adds.
 
“Downtown Minneapolis is a leader for the [Twin Cities] region,” he adds. “If it thrives, the region as a whole thrives.”
 
Aimia Jobs in Minneapolis
 
Director of Business Development - CPG, Retail, Finance
 
IT Sales Engineer
 
Mobile Delivery Manager
 

Prohibition Kombucha: Hippie elixir to haute mixer

The latest craft brew to come out of Minneapolis-St. Paul isn’t made from barley and hops. It’s Prohibition Kombucha, a fermented beverage made from high-quality teas and fruit or floral flavorings.

The tasty product of a partnership between former Herkimer brewer Nathan Uri and Verdant Tea founder David Duckler, Prohibition is the region’s first homegrown kombucha. The company’s three kombucha flavors are available at about a dozen co-ops, coffee shops and farmers markets around the Twin Cities, including Mill City Farmers’ Market, Seward Co-op, Spyhouse and Kopplin’s Coffee.

Uri has bigger aspirations, though: He’s teaming up with Minneapolis-based Tree Fort Soda to build a larger kombucha brewery at a to-be-determined location in the Twin Cities.  Eventually, Uri envisions a product line available at cafes, restaurants and grocery stores throughout the country, plus satellite breweries on the East and West Coasts to supply customers in other regions.

Prohibition Kombucha’s creations are healthy -- really healthy. “Depending on the quality of tea and type of yeasts and bacteria used, there can be varying levels of amino acids like L-theanine, healthy sour acids like malic and acetic acid, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and other nutrients,” says Uri. “Our kombucha is also low in sugar and calories, slowing the glycemic load of a meal when consumed with food.”

According to Uri, all Prohibition Kombucha varieties have less than one gram of sugar per ounce and no more than 56 calories per pint.

Popular with the counterculture movement in the Southwest and West Coast, kombucha is novel concept in the Twin Cities. “Currently, the main reason people drink Kombucha is for the probiotic content,” explains Uri, “which can be as simple as one bacteria or as many as 20 beneficial yeasts and bacteria.”

The microbes ferment a mixture of tea, sugar and other natural ingredients, producing carbonation, crisp flavors and a trace, non-intoxicating amount of alcohol. A multi-organism fermenting base is called a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeasts, or SCOBY.

Kombucha doesn’t always taste great, though. Without naming names, Uri fingers “some other brands” that have a funky, sour, “sharkbite” flavor that’s too tangy to be pleasant. Prohibition uses high-quality black and oolong teas, plus carefully selected secondary ingredients, to achieve a “crisp, cider-like acid-sugar balance,” Uri says.

The fermenting process does produce trace amounts of alcohol -- less than 0.5% by volume. Though 0.5% isn’t intoxicating, Uri and Duckler are sensitive to sober customers’ concerns.

“We completely and unequivocally respect and support” those who avoid kombucha for any reason, says Uri. “That said, others in recovery enjoy our Kombucha without issue. It's a very personal choice and we want everyone to lead healthy and happy lives, so we label our product accordingly.”

In fact, Prohibition Kombucha probably wouldn’t exist if not for Uri’s temporary decision to quit drinking. In 2012, while living in Portland, he hankered for the sensory and aesthetic experience of a fine wine, great beer or perfect cocktail.” He tried his first “small batch craft” kombucha, loved it, and began brewing kombucha at home.

Soon realizing the importance of quality tea to quality kombucha -- many other kombucha producers use low-quality teas or “the bare minimum” of a higher-grade variety, he says -- Uri moved back to the Twin Cities and contacted Duckler, an old friend. Now, Uri exclusively uses Verdant Tea’s black and oolong teas in his kombuchas.

“Since [Duckler] sources the finest, freshest and highest quality Chinese teas available in the US, it’s a natural partnership,” he says. One that could soon bring a fermented, cocktail-quality and (almost) totally non-alcoholic beverage to your local coffee shop or grocery store shelf.

 

Creative City Roadmap welcomes arts insights

Creative City Roadmap, the City of Minneapolis’ ambitious plan to highlight and strengthen the city’s creative assets, is entering its next phase. Until November 21, an online survey allows city residents to share insights about Minneapolis’ current cultural strengths and offer new ideas for widening the city’s “dot” on the American cultural map.
 
The results of the survey will inform the drafting of the actual Creative City Roadmap, a 10-year arts and culture plan to be released in 2015. The Creative City Roadmap will replace Minneapolis’ current 10-year arts and culture plan released in 2005.
 
In addition to inviting rank and file Minneapolitans to take part in the survey, the city tapped two “artist engagement teams” to “engage with people [around the survey], especially those who are part of traditionally underrepresented and underserved communities,” says Rachel Engh, creative economy program associate for the City of Minneapolis.
 
The teams include local creatives Chrys Carroll, Keegan Xavi, Sha Cage and E.G. Bailey. Their duties encompass in-person surveying, “anecdotal data gathering” through community engagement initiatives, and drafting and editing the Creative City Roadmap document.
 
The Creative City Roadmap process is run by a steering committee that oversees five working groups focused on core intersections of the creative economy: placemaking, creative engagement, lifelong learning and sharing, supporting artists’ work and the arts’ relationship with the “mainstream” economy.
 
“The role of arts and culture in the city of Minneapolis, and the way the city chooses to support these industries and activities, is changing,” says Engh. “The Creative City Road Map’s vision is that arts and cultural activities have the capacity to expand the economic pie and help more people reap benefits.”
 
“Many major U.S. cities have citywide arts and culture planning documents,” she adds. “[We’re also] acknowledging the value a new plan for arts, culture and the creative economy could have for Minneapolis,” both by “making Minneapolis a more welcoming and desirable place to live and giving underserved Minneapolitans access to economic and social returns.”
 
Creative City Roadmap kicked off with a September 17 public house at the Textile Center on University Avenue and a September 24 followup event at the Pillsbury House & Theater in South Minneapolis. The information-gathering phase of the project will run through September 2015, with regular programming and feedback during that time. According to Engh, at least two more open houses, in the mold of the Textile Center and Pillsbury House events, are planned for the coming months.
 

The Foundation expands in Minneapolis and to San Diego

The Foundation is moving its 20+ employees from a small office shared with Atomic Data into a bigger space in the recently renovated Ford Center, near the heart of the North Loop. The “single source IT provider,” which serves as a one-stop help desk for design, architecture and nonprofit firms that use Apple systems, is also opening a new office in Co-Merge, a coworking space in San Diego, in what could be the first phase of a multi-city expansion.

A rapid expansion and a shift into mobile device support for national retail chains “caused us to run out of physical space” for housing employees and “storing pallets of iPads and iPhones,” says Matt Woestehoff, director of operations and business development. “Meanwhile, Atomic Data”—a data center operator co-owned by Jim Wolford, sole owner and CEO of The Foundation—“was growing rapidly and basically kicked us out of their office,” Woestehoff says with a laugh.

The new digs are “definitely an upgrade,” he adds. The Foundation shares one floor of the Ford Center with Seed, a small startup incubator that focuses on biotechnology and other high-tech ideas. Seed uses an old chemistry lab on one side of the building.

The Foundation’s new space belonged to a boutique soap manufacturer, a longtime client of The Foundation’s, which moved its operations to Milwaukee after a buyout by Johnson & Johnson. The space has a 32-desk bullpen and easy access to a highly secure storage area for valuable electronics. The Foundation has access to a guest parking lot, a huge perk for the 300-odd local clients that had to use meter parking at its old location.

Though The Foundation is growing rapidly, the Ford Center space should be fine for the foreseeable future. Unlike many IT companies, The Foundation lacks an office-based salesforce. “We’re not salesy people,” says Woestehoff. Instead, the company relies on referrals and search traffic to generate new business. The company’s engineer-heavy workforce spends “40 to 45 hours per week, per person” on site at local clients’ offices, freeing up space at the Ford Center.

The flexible work model first led Woestehoff and the team to explore the possibility of a second office last year. Two employees, an engineer and operations specialist, expressed interest in moving to southern California and remaining part of the team. Woestehoff investigated and found that San Diego’s business culture is remarkably like the Twin Cities’, “very forward-looking in terms of technology, but laid back and supportive too,” he says, without the competitiveness of tech hubs like San Francisco and New York.

Using The Foundation’s experience with CoCo, “a valued partner” that the company has worked with for years, Woestehoff found Co-Merge and set the two employees up there. It’s still early going, but initial business development efforts have been successful. He’s confident the move will pay off, noting that other cities with similarly forward-looking yet supportive cultures could be ripe for additional offices for The Foundation.

But not too fast. In today’s fast-paced IT world, The Foundation, now in its 15th year, prides itself on patience and strategic thinking. “A lot of our friends have gone out of business because they’ve acted fast and made mistakes,” he says. “If it takes another 15 years to open a third office, so be it.”
 

Detroit chef Tunde Wey brings movable feast to MSP

Tunde Wey, a Detroit chef with a reputation as hot as his cuisine, is making his way to Loring Park on November 11. He’s on a mission to “unfetter diners from the tedium of modern American cuisine,” using the newly opened Third Bird (on Harmon Place) as his canvas for Lagos x Minneapolis.
 
Wey’s ticketed event features a six-course meal of authentic Nigerian dishes, including a traditional rice pilaf, peppered goat and fried plantains. The gathering is aptly named after the capital and largest city of Wey’s home country. The event, Wey says, is a way for American diners “to allow themselves to be colonized by Nigerian food,” which isn’t as popular in the Twin Cities as many other ethnic cuisines.
 
“Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with about 150 million people in an area the size of Texas,” Wey says. “So I find it amazing that its cuisine isn’t more widely available.”
 
Then again, says Wey, “Nigerian food” is something of a misnomer. His home country’s cuisine is much like what’s available in across West Africa, which has a common climate and dozens of cultures with a shared, ancient history. Labeling country-specific cuisines is a much newer concept, the byproduct of European colonial activity in the region.
 
The idea of an authentic, intimate West African experience in a newly opened restaurant resonated with Kim Bartmann, owner of the Third Bird and the force behind such notable Minneapolis-St. Paul establishments as the Tiny Diner, Red Stag Supper Club and Barbette. Wey and Bartmann met at IMG’s Urban Innovation Exchange in September, and the partnership quickly took root.
 
“It seemed to be a good match,” says Wey. He’ll be first on a slate of monthly guest chefs that Bartmann wants to feature at the Third Bird.
 
Wey formerly co-owned (revolver), a “permanent pop-up” restaurant in Detroit’s up-and-coming Hamtramck area. Typically open just two days a week, (revolver) hosts a “revolving” slate of notable, innovative chefs from around the U.S. and world, allowing them to create a completely new menu during temporary stints in the kitchen.
 
Though (revolver) raised Wey’s profile considerably, he came to feel that the restaurant constrained his creativity. (revolver)’s guest chefs were all incredibly talented, but most adhered to the orthodoxy of modern American cuisine. Six months after opening (revolver) with his business partner, Wey was regularly experimenting with traditional African dishes—“what my mother, grandmother and relatives on back have been cooking for hundreds of years.” Earlier this year, he sold his shares to his partner and left (revolver) behind.
 
“People were very supportive of the idea behind Lagos,” says Wey, “which gave me the confidence to go out and do this.”
 
Without a permanent restaurant home, though, Wey is keen to drum up even more public support. In addition to Minneapolis, Lagos has made stops in New Orleans and Chicago, with Cincinnati, Buffalo, Philadelphia and Brooklyn still to come.
 
Asked what he’s looking to take away from the experience, Wey says, “I have no expectations. I’ll take whatever the good people of Minneapolis want to give me.”
 
When the Lagos tour ends, he does have his sights set on opening a Nigerian (or West African) restaurant in Detroit. Longer-term, he can see himself as a restaurateur in the mold of Bartmann, opening unique, independently branded restaurants in Detroit and other Midwestern cities.
 

Midwest Innovation Summit showcases startups focusing on sustainable technologies

Hundreds of entrepreneurs, investors and corporate executives gathered at the Depot Hotel in Minneapolis on October 27 and 28 for the Midwest Innovation Summit, an annual gathering that showcases what’s next in technology and manufacturing across the region. About 75 exhibitors were on hand, including promising Minnesota startups like 75F—winner of this year’s Minnesota Cup— and Water Meter Solutions, which operates out of CoCo Minneapolis.
 
“The Midwest Innovation Summit is about attracting entrepreneurs and business leaders from all across the region to display any solution that uses natural resources more efficiently,” says Justin Kaster, executive director of Midwest CleanTech Open, the summit’s sponsor. “Many of the exhibitors here are committed to sustainability for ethical and environmental reasons, but [Midwest Innovation Summit] really shows that clean technology is a great business opportunity as well.”
 
In innovation capitals like the Twin Cities, Kaster adds, entrepreneurs and investors have “started to respond to that value proposition” over the last decade. “Everyone realizes that clean technology is a win-win situation now,” he says. “You don’t have work overtime to convince people of that anymore.”
 
Several Twin Cities companies have clearly bought in. Water Meter Solutions makes two water-saving technologies. Floo-id is a “smart toilet monitoring device” that allows property managers and homeowners to monitor their toilets’ water use in real time, quickly identifying leaks and other issues that could affect their water bills. Floo-id is powered by flowing water, making it energy neutral. Water Meter Solutions’ other technology, H2O Pro, performs a similar function for entire buildings’ water systems, offering value to multi-unit landlords.
 
Nearby, Minneapolis-based Irri-Green’s exhibitor booth showed off the Genius irrigation system, a patent pending lawn-watering setup that analyzes landscape contours and other factors to deliver water as efficiently as possible. Each Genius irrigator’s range overlaps precisely with that of the next, “eliminating the wasteful, overlapping arcs of water that conventional irrigation systems” produce, says Irri-Green.
 
Garden Fresh Farms, a Minneapolis startup and 2013 Minnesota Cup division winner with an aquaculture facility in the city, was on hand as well. The fish in the company’s growing tanks continuously fertilize the plants suspended above them, creating a self-sustaining ecosystem that produces plant and animal products for harvest.
 
These local companies are part of what Kaster calls “a regional ecosystem of innovation.” He urges entrepreneurs, investors, nonprofits and government entities across the Midwest to “think bigger than the city or county level” and “move past the state versus state competition” that can hinder the exchange of ideas, people and investment. The Northeast, Kaster says, is a great example of a region where innovators have banded together to create sustainable, big-picture solutions, like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
 
“We have a tremendous amount of intellectual and creative capital here in the Twin Cities,” he says. “Events like the Midwest Innovation Summit are conduits for ideas and investment from nearby areas” that ultimately raise the profiles and prospects of local innovators.
 

St. Paul Healthy Transportation convening engages communities in sustainable transit

The St. Paul Healthy Transportation for All Convening, held on October 25 at Carpenter’s Hall in St. Paul, found St. Paul’s alternative transportation advocates celebrating their movement’s growing momentum and planning for challenges ahead. The goal of the conference, according to St. Paul Healthy Transportation for All (SPHTFA), was to “actively engage St. Paul grassroots community leaders to create a sustainable multimodal transportation system.”
 
“Based on what our planning team has heard from community members, walkable streets with safe and accessible infrastructure is the most widespread issue,” says Lauren Fulner, who coordinates the “District Council [members], transportation focused non-profits and relevant agencies” that comprise SPHTFA. “[Our unofficial motto is] ‘everyone is a pedestrian at some point', so...awareness of the pedestrian realm is a natural place to focus.”
 
As SPHTFA’s first major event, the Convening drew community leaders and citizens from nearly every St. Paul neighborhood. At workshops and breakout sessions, participants learned how to lead conversations and initiatives around public and alternative transportation, collaborate with counterparts in other communities, and work directly with city and state decision-makers to effect positive change.
 
The Convening covered most of the day’s hot transit topics. Workshops included “You and the St. Paul Bike Plan,” “Racial Equity in Transit Decision Making” and “From Vision to Plan to Project.” The event also featured a session devoted to “Organizing Friendly Streets and Better Blocks,” which highlighted Fulner’s work with the Friendly Streets Initiative. And the conference explored useful tools for transportation advocates, including an “Equitable Development Scorecard” and a “walkability/accessibility survey” for SPHTFA attendees.
 
Despite St. Paul Healthy Transportation for All’s community-driven focus, the conference attracted key state and local leaders. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman opened with remarks on St. Paul’s transportation system, followed by Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger’s keynote speech on the health benefits of walking, biking and public transit. Charles Zelle, Minnesota’s Transportation Commissioner, closed with remarks on past and future developments in road use and public transit.
 
According to Fulner, SPHTFA formed out of “several years of conversations around more intentional collaboration and sharing of resources between District Councils,” with the Macalester-Groveland and Hamline-Midway councils taking the lead. Fulner stresses that SPHTFA is “in it for the long haul, in the sense that [this isn’t] a one event or one meeting kind of project,” she says. “We want to foster increased collaboration and creative, big picture thinking in community members and decision makers.”
 
SPHTFA takes a “whole city” approach to transportation, paying special attention to the needs of traditionally underserved communities and marginalized demographic groups, such as the elderly and people with disabilities. While celebrating the better-than-expected debut of the Green Line, Fulner is quick to point out that it “does not serve many of the traditionally under-represented and under-resourced neighborhoods and populations.”
 
“There needs to be more focus of the city as a whole, including the East Side and the West Side [meaning the area south of downtown],” she adds.
 
Overall, Fulner and SPHTFA would like stakeholders and citizens to recognize the fundamentally interconnected nature of St. Paul’s urban fabric and work to strengthen it. “Transportation and health are both issues that function in a web of interconnectivity, rather than as a series of isolated issues, and should be addressed with this in mind,” she says.”
 

WAM recreating iconic photo with Green Line train

The Weisman Art Museum’s (WAM) Wanderlust event, on Friday evening starting at 7 p.m., was named for the museum’s fall exhibitions—all of which are related to travel or transportation. One of those exhibitions, “Trains That Passed in the Night: The Photographs of O. Winston Link,” has inspired an elaborate re-creation of a signature Link photo using a Green Line train.
 
The re-creation is based on Link’s most famous photograph, which captured one of the country’s last commercially operational steam trains in the mid-1950s. The photo was shot at night, using flashes that illuminated the sides and top of the train, with a drive-in movie theater—replete with a symbolic airplane onscreen—in the foreground.
 
The recreated photograph will capture a specific Green Line train traveling out of the East Bank Station at around 7:15 p.m. The new image, overseen by well-known photographer and University of Minnesota assistant professor of photography Paul Shambroom, will feature a couple holding an iPad in the foreground, with the train negotiating a curved section of track in the middle ground.
 
Ten crews made up of MFA students and local photographers will set up lighting and other equipment (mostly donated by local companies) at various points along the route. Metro Transit will prepare the interior of the train with special lighting for better contrast. A radio-controlled system will ensure all the flashbulbs go off simultaneously.
 
“Paul really jumped on the idea when we pitched it to him,” says Erin Lauderman, WAM’s communications director. The completed photograph will hang in one of WAM’s galleries next to Link’s work.
 
The free Wanderlust event also includes “EXISTENTIA,” a performance art piece by Robert Niebor; Native Kids Ride Bikes, a traveling collection of lowrider bikes crafted by Native American kids from Michigan; and smoothies mixed using bicycle power.
 

Hothouse @ MIA sponsors creative coworking event

Hothouse @ MIA, Sarah Lutman’s pop-up coworking space in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ (MIA) Villa Rosa Room, just reached the end of its 12-week run. To sustain momentum for the experiment, Lutman is partnering with OTA and Philadelphia-based coworking guru Alex Hillman to produce “What’s Up with Alex Hillman,” a TED-style conversation this Thursday, Oct. 23, at 7 p.m. in the MIA. Thursday’s event, coupled with “ongoing conversations with fellow Hothousers,” could help Hothouse secure a permanent location somewhere in the MIA.

“What’s Up with Alex Hillman” is the final event of several produced with the participation or collaboration of Hothouse residents. “Hothouse participants who produce public programs as part of their professional work were tasked with directly connecting the MIA to their programs during the 12-week pilot,” says Hunter Wright-Palmer, MIA’s Venture Innovation Director. “Programs as diverse as Climate Hack Twin Cities, Chris Farrell's Unretirement, Sing the Museum, and an FD:13 performance by Jen Rosenblit were enhanced by authentic connections to different elements of the MIA and the collection.”

On Thursday, Hillman—founder of Philadelphia’s Indy Hall coworking hub and first-time Twin Cities visitor—will talk about “taking an active role in creating community and pursuing ‘the good life,’” says Lutman, MIA’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence. Hillman defines “the good life” as one “rich with relationships, ideas, emotions, health and vigor, recognition and contribution, passion and fulfillment, great accomplishment and enduring achievement.”

The overarching goal of “What’s Up with Alex Hillman” is to spark conversations about creative approaches to coworking here in the Twin Cities, using Indy Hall’s community-driven art shows, readings, pop-ups, farmers’ market and spin-off organizations as models. Those conversations could help determine the future of Hothouse and coworking at the MIA. 

“There are a lot of spaces at the MIA that are episodically not in use,” says Lutman, stressing that no decisions have been made about how Hothouse will look or where it will “live” if it returns later this year or next.

“[Lutman] and I are working together to determine the future of Hothouse,” says Palmer-Wright, “exploring...benefits thus far from both the participant side and MIA side to address next steps.”

Hothouse @ MIA, and community-driven coworking more broadly, is an important component of MIA’s development strategy, which “emerged directly out of two prongs of our strategic plan DNA, audience engagement and [revenue generation],” says Palmer-Wright. For Lutman, Hothouse offered an opportunity to “foster [community] connections and create an opportunity for authentic co-working experiences,” a longtime passion. Hothouse naturally arose from the intersection of these complementary goals.
 
“Hothouse posed an opportunity to connect a new audience with new ways to use the MIA's resources by activating our collection, physical spaces and staff to catalyze innovation, productivity and connection in the everyday work of Hothouse members,” explains Palmer-Wright.

Like Indy Hall, Lutman’s inspiration, Hothouse is more than a “transactional” coworking space where independents share resources with peers but otherwise remain aloof. Rather, Hothouse is “an opportunity to take a deeper dive into the MIA in the daily lives and needs of members,” says Palmer-Wright.

“The key differentiator between Hothouse @ MIA and other co-working spaces, locally or nationally, is the intentional connection between the co-working members and the MIA,” she adds.
 

Green Line Theater animates light-rail line on Saturday

Green Line Theater, an “original, mobile theater production” sponsored by the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative’s Catalyst Fund, will enliven the Green Line at 1 p.m. this Saturday, Oct 18, (or 1 p.m. this Sunday, in the event of a rainout). The production—created in partnership with the Minnesota Museum of American Art’s (MMAA) Project Space exhibition “From There to Here”—includes visual art and performances from artists Wing Young Huie, Ashley Hanson and Jessica Huang, as well as from members of the communities surrounding the Green Line.

The play comprises five scenes at five stops—Raymond, Hamline, Dale, Capitol/Rice and Central—and explores the “rich history, stories and collective memories associated with [Green Line] neighborhoods,” according to the MMAA. Creatively, it’s an extension and expansion of “Bus Stop Theater,” a Creative CityMaking collaboration that brought Huie and Hanson together last year.
 
Huie, Hanson, Huang and others developed the script in close consultation with Springboard for the Arts, the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent, and the African Development Center. The three organizations held “workshops and street engagements to collect stories about the neighborhoods along the Green Line,” using the information to “inform the script for the interactive play,” according to MMAA.

The audience will travel together from scene to scene, using the light rail as transportation, in a style of site-specific theater know as mobile theater. “Utilizing public transportation to move from scene to scene is not anything we have heard of happening here before last year, when [Wing and I] produced ‘Bus Stop Theater’,” Hanson says.

“The idea behind this type of mobile theater is to get the audience engaged with their public transportation system, the landscape that it moves through, and the other people who utilize public transportation,” adds Hanson. “In a way, we are turning transit vehicles into community meeting places.”
 
In addition to her work along the Green Line, Hanson’s PlaceBase Productions—a collaboration with artist Andrew Gaylord—puts on site-specific performances at locations across Minnesota. Paddling Theater, for instance, makes its way through the Minnesota River Valley by boat. We use “mobile theater to connect audiences to their physical landscape by producing stories...in the landscape [where they] occurred,” Hanson says.
 
Performers and audience members meet at the parking lot for 2314 University Ave W, near the Raymond Station. Though “Green Line Theater” is free, register for the event. A free, open-admission reception follows the last scene at the Minnesota Museum of American Art, in downtown St. Paul.
 
“We hope to continue exploring this medium in the hope that more people will bring theater outside the box,” Hanson says, “and engage with an audience that might not otherwise attend a theater production.”
 

Giant Steps: The power of creatives working together

More than 100 Twin Cities’ creatives gathered last week in the Minneapolis Convention Center for the fifth annual Giant Steps, an all-day conference for “entrepreneurial creatives and creative entrepreneurs.” Giant Steps featured three plenary panel conversations, covering broad topics like overcoming creative and practical challenges, defining success and scaling a creative business. Smaller breakout sessions included “Finding Your Audience/Finding Your Niche,” “Tax: Thinking Outside the Shoebox” and “Self-Care for Creatives.”
 
Founded by Susan Campion of Camponovo Consulting and M.anifest, a Ghana-born hip hop artist with close ties to the Twin Cities, Giant Steps is all about helping local creatives, freelancers and self-employed “independents” overcome obstacles to creative and financial success. This year’s conference was hosted by Campion, who’s also a professor at the University of St. Thomas, and Kevin Beacham, a DJ, hip-hop historian and manager at Rhymesayers.
 
According to Giant Steps, attendees included people from all over the creative spectrum: “Chefs, designers, dancers, architects, photographers, playwrights, film-makers, inventors [and] hip hop artists.”
 
“We believe we'll learn more and learn faster if we cast a wider net—connecting with and learning from folks beyond our current discipline or industry,” according to the Giant Steps’ website. “By creating conversations around interesting examples and challenges we all share, we set the stage for cross-pollination and future collaborations.”
 
Giant Steps’ three panel conversations shaped the dialogue. In the morning, “Resilience: Overcoming Challenges and Moving Forward” found four local entrepreneurs and artists (including Teresa Fox of Glam Doll Donuts) sharing insights on early roadblocks to creative and financial success—writer’s block, business setbacks and more. “Success: How Do You Define It and How Does It Define You?” featured dancer/choreographer Ananya Chatterjea, founder of Ananya Dance Theater, and three others, discussing the importance of setting manageable goals and crafting a long-term creative or entrepreneurial vision.
 
The final panel conversation, “Good Problems to Have: Insights on Scaling Your Work and Increasing Your Impact,” featured four successful “creative entrepreneurs” who have “graduated” to managing sizable teams: Chris Cloud of MPLS.TV, Joan Vorderbruggen of Made Here and the Hennepin Theater Trust, Mark Fox of creative-friendly Fox Tax and Maurice Blanks of local modern furniture designer Blu Dot.
 
All talked about what drove them to move beyond the “independent” mindset and recruit teams to work under them. “We started with the narcissistic assumption that our need”— fashionable furniture at an affordable price—“was shared by others [in the Twin Cities],” said Blanks, whose company now has nearly 100 employees. “The initial goal was to create jobs we liked.”
 
Campion, who moderated the conversation, asked the panelists about limits to growth as well. “The most important thing we learned was when to say ‘no,’” said Fox. “You never want quality to suffer” as a result of ambition.
 
For Vorderbruggen, success—specifically, managing a team of artists for the Hennepin Theater Trust—meant sticking up for her fellow creatives. Asked by Campion what prerogatives her newfound power provided, she recalled convincing her superiors not to request free work from artists. “If I’m getting paid, my artists are getting paid,” she said.
 
Vorderbruggen also talked about staying in tune with the creative community as she transitioned to an oversight role. She was instrumental in putting together a panel that represented the diversity of Minneapolis’ arts community, ensuring that many viewpoints would be included in Made Here’s work.
 
Giant Steps packed a lot of insight into a single day, but the theme that tied it together was simple: Creatives and entrepreneurs have more in common than they might think—and they’re more powerful when they work together.
 
“You need to make sure that others know what you stand for,” said Cloud, “and know when to rely on people who can do a great job at things you might not be so good at.”
 

HOTROCITY: A local e-shop for fashionistas

You no longer need to bike to the boutique to find the latest in Twin Cities fashion. With HOTROCITY, a Minneapolis-based e-shop run by model, blogger, event promoter and fashion guru John-Mark, you can shop for local designs in the comfort of your living room. Still, you may want to pedal over to Public Functionary on Friday (October 17), where HOTROCITY will be featured during an open-admission launch party.
 
HOTROCITY launched at the beginning of October, drawing inspiration from (among many others) local artist Jesse Draxler, “the exquisite personal style” of Twin Cities’ fashionista Sarah Edwards and the collaborative fashion blog MPLSTYLE, which John-Mark ran with locals Drew Krason and Savanna Ruedy.
 
HOTROCITY specializes in such items as pendants, bracelets, earrings and bags, made right here in the Twin Cities. Featured local designers include East Fourth Street, Silver Cocoon and Objects & Subjects. Some items are instantly memorable, like Silver Cocoon’s “Moon Rabbit Rice Pack Draw String” and Objects & Subjects’ “Bullet Bracelet” (yes, those are shell casings).
 
“At HOTROCITY, we have a very unique relationship with each individual designer,” says John-Mark. “It's been so much fun getting to know [them all]. We're pretty flexible with our designers and do our best to accommodate wherever they're at in their own journey as artists and business people.”
 
Though the focus is on local artists, HOTROCITY also curates designs from creatives in L.A., Chicago, Seoul and Shanghai. And John-Mark is always on the hunt for new looks, wherever they’re found.
 
“We have an intensive checklist of standards to ensure that we're providing our customers with high quality product, manufactured with care,” he says. To keep things fresh, he adds, HOTROCITY will add to its lineup on a monthly basis and “do an aggressive turnover of store product bi-annually.”
 
HOTROCITY launched after a year of “brainstorming how I could foster a greater impact on the local design community that extended beyond blogging,” says John-Mark. He paired with Irv Briscoe of VON91, a web design agency based in downtown Minneapolis, to craft an arresting website and e-commerce platform: “something notorious,” according to the website.
 
John-Mark expects the “relentless creativity” of the Twin Cities to seal HOTROCITY’s success. The region isn’t known as a fashion hub, but there’s enough inspiration here to support a locally focused fashion boutique.
 
“This is an easy job when I see all the talent we have in the local design community,” he says. “Starting a business can be scary, but I've seen enough positive growth in our design community to be confident in the sustainability of HOTROCITY.”
 
John-Mark is a big fan of the buy-local concept, too. “Most women make the pilgrimage to Uptown, the Mall of America or the Internet to buy clothing or accessories at least once a year, if not more,” he says. “Wouldn't it be great if that shopping also supported local artists?”
 

Arts on Chicago encourages stakeholders to own the dirt

A $200,000 grant from the Bush Foundation could dramatically transform the Chicago Avenue streetscape over the next decade. The two-year Community Innovation Grant, awarded to Arts on Chicago, will fund existing artistic placemaking projects on Chicago Avenue between 32nd and 42nd Streets.

The corridor sits at the intersection of the Powderhorn, Bancroft, Central and Bryant neighborhoods, and local Arts on Chicago stakeholders include the Pillsbury House & Theater, Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association, Upstream Arts, Wing Young Huie’s Third Place gallery and local artist/MCAD professor Natasha Pestich.
 
The Bush Foundation grant will also facilitate the development of a Creative Community Development Plan, to be finalized in 2016, that dovetails with the City of Minneapolis’ 38th & Chicago Small Area Plan. According to Mike Hoyt, Pillsbury House & Theater’s Creative Community Liaison, the grant will provide direct support for 8 to 12 artists engaged in creative placemaking projects around the neighborhood. The subsequent CCDP could build on this foundation, offering equity in development projects to local artists and other community members, though discussions are still in the early stages.
 
Thanks to a $150,000 grant from Artplace America in 2012, Arts on Chicago has already begun or completed about 20 small-scale placemaking projects along the 10-block corridor. “Since they last for just one year, ArtPlace grants compel you to sprint to accomplish everything you’ve planned,” says Hoyt, adding that the 2012 grant allowed Arts on Chicago to chart an ambitious path forward.
 
“We used to envision ourselves as a creative and cultural hub for the community,” he adds. “We’re now in the process of building a web of artistic assets across the area.” Arts on Chicago, and any initiatives that arise out of its Creative Community Development Plan, may eventually broaden to include the entire area bounded by 35W, Lake Street, Cedar Avenue and 42nd Street, with funding for creative placemaking projects throughout.
 
The overarching goal is to use art-focused placemaking to empower the entire cross-section of community members, including those whose agency and input has been limited until now. As the area’s character changes, says Hoyt, Arts on Chicago aims to turn local creatives into stakeholders, providing equity—“owning the dirt,” he says—so that they can’t easily be displaced by development.
 
“We’re trying to create a growth and development plan that doesn’t force people out,” he says, “but there’s still a lot we don’t know.” Conversations with Twin Cities’ policy makers and traditional community development efforts are ongoing. Arts on Chicago is also funding temporary research assistant positions, awarded to four Humphrey Institute students in late September, to canvas the community and get a better sense of locals’ needs and wants.
 
More ambitiously, Arts on Chicago is exploring hybrid approaches beyond traditional nonprofit models to facilitate sustainable development that empowers and enriches current residents. Hoyt cites the Northeast Investment Cooperative’s model, as well as “social venture” models in use elsewhere. Such plans could be particularly attractive in the Central neighborhood, which Hoyt says has a housing vacancy rate of more than 10 percent.

“A surplus of housing creates more opportunities to keep people in place” using existing assets, says Hoyt. But these efforts would require buy-in and support from other organizations, he cautions, and could take years to bear fruit.
 
“The most important thing now is tracking, measuring and assessing” Arts on Chicago’s initial placemaking work, and putting plans in place to build on its successful elements, says Hoyt. “It might take 5 to 10 years to see a real impact on the communities we serve.”
 

 

Dino bike rack, Hmong fashion: Knight Arts Challenge winners

The Knight Foundation recently announced 42 winners of its first-ever St. Paul Knight Arts Challenge. The challenge tasked applicants with answering this question: “What’s your best idea for the arts in St. Paul?” The grants, totaling nearly $1.4 million, recognize creative initiatives from the Far East Side to St. Anthony Park.
 
In addition to providing their best ideas for the arts in St. Paul, the Knight Foundation requires successful applicants to demonstrate that that project will either “take place in or benefit St. Paul,” according to a release from the foundation. And each applicant must find funds to match the Knight Foundation’s awards. Some of notable winners include:
 
The “Smallest Museum in St. Paul,” $5,000
A project of almost-open WorkHorse Coffee Shop, in the Creative Enterprise Zone in St. Anthony Park, the “Smallest Museum in St. Paul” will be really, really small—a vintage fire-hose cabinet that couldn’t even hold a Labrador retriever. The museum will host rotating collections of artifacts, art and memorabilia from the neighborhood’s vibrant creative and academic communities. The first exhibit is scheduled for June. Future exhibits must follow three simple rules: celebrate local themes or history, engage the coffee shop’s patrons, and avoid high-value, theft-prone artifacts.
 
Fresh Traditions Fashion Show, $35,000
The Center for Hmong Arts and Talent won a sizable grant to expand its Fresh Traditions Fashion Show, the Twin Cities’ “only culturally inspired fashion event that exhibits the creativity, originality and quality of work by Hmong designers,” according to the Knight Foundation. At the show, designers must incorporate five traditional Hmong fabrics into clothing that hews to contemporary fashion. Part of the Knight Foundation grant will be set aside for career support and skills-building classes for individual designers.

Radio Novelas on the East Side, $50,000
Nuestro Pueblo San Pablo Productions, led by Barry Madore, will use its Knight award to produce a series of 20 fictional radio novelas that celebrate the history and culture of the East Side’s Latino community. Madore plans to promote the series with three live shows at yet-to-be-named venues around the district. Like Fresh Traditions Fashion Show designers, participating performers can count on support and training from Madore and his partners.
 
Paleo-osteological Bike Rack, $40,000
Artist and paleo-osteological interpreter Michael Bahl has plans to fabricate the bronze skeleton of a large dinosaur-like animal in repose, with its ribcage functioning as a bike rack. That bony crest on its skull? A bike helmet. The work focuses on how prehistoric skeletons, which are obsessed over by scientists and fossil hunters around the world—can also be viewed as works of art. “When the individual bones are joined in a united effort, a skeleton becomes the ultimate functioning mechanism, or in this case, a whimsical bike rack,” according to Knight’s website.

Twin Cities Jazz Festival, $125,000
More established organizations got a slice of the pie, too. The largest single grant went to the Twin Cities Jazz Festival. The annual festival already draws more than 30,000 attendees, but organizers wanted to add more stage space and spring for better-known headliners. Performers have yet to be announced for next year’s event, in June, but executive director Steve Heckler is considering a move to the brand-new St. Paul Saints stadium, in the heart of Lowertown. That would create more seating space and facilitate pedestrian traffic from the Green Line stop at Union Depot.
 
The St. Paul Knight Arts Challenge will continue through 2016, with two more rounds of awards. All told, the foundation has earmarked $4.5 million to fund creative ideas, plus another $3.5 million for five established St. Paul arts institutions: Springboard for the Arts, Penumbra Theater, TU Dance, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and The Arts Partnership. St. Paul is just the fourth city to participate in the Knight Arts Challenge, after Miami, Detroit and Philadelphia.
 

TechDump expands job and recycling opportunities

Tech Dump, a technology recycling nonprofit based in Golden Valley, opened a second location on North Prior Avenue in St. Paul on September 22. The facility collects more than a dozen varieties of tech waste, from old computer monitors and TVs to batteries, cell phones and printer cartridges.
 
Tech Dump complements its commitment to responsible waste disposal with a mission to create jobs for “economically disadvantaged adults” who live in the area. The organization is an offshoot of the nonprofit Jobs Foundation, led by Probus Online founders George Lee and Tom McCullough. Lee and McCullough claim that for every 72,000 pounds of waste Tech Dump handles, the organization creates one job for one year.
 
Tech Dump finds its employees through partnerships with such Twin Cities nonprofits as Goodwill Easter Seals and Better Futures Enterprises, and referrals from current employees. “[The nonprofit partners] provide soft skills training and other pre-employment resources, then refer employees to us when we have openings,” says Amanda LaGrange, marketing director, Tech Dump.
 
She adds that,  “employees are very protective of our organization,” so they can recognize potential candidates who “really want to change and work toward a new future.”
 
Once hired, employees take on escalating responsibilities until they “graduate” from Tech Dump and find work at another employer. “We want to develop the skills that will make our staff the best employees in their next position,” LaGrange adds, such as “showing up to work on time each day, respecting managers and co-workers, accepting feedback and going the extra mile.”
 
Tech Dump handles old electronics in two ways: recycling and repurposing. For the former, Tech Dump employees take apart each piece of equipment, separate its electronic components and reduce them to the simplest state possible before shipping them off to a specialized facility for recycling. For the latter, Tech Dump workers repair or replace damaged or broken components and restore each piece of equipment to good working order.
 
With both processes, any stored data is destroyed (by force, not just erased) before usable components are harvested or recycled.
 
Tech Dump is cheap and inclusive, too. “We only charge for the items we have to pay to recycle, like CRT/tube TVs and monitors, rear projection TVs and fluorescent bulbs,” LaGrange says. Tech Dump is also “open to anyone—businesses and residents of any city, county or state.”
 
Ironically, Tech Dump started out as a furniture recycler. But an experimental “Tech Dump Day” in 2011 was wildly successful, turning Lee and McCullough on to local demand for responsible e-recycling. The pair exited the furniture recycling business in 2013 and set about building Tech Dump into a socially responsible powerhouse.
 
To sharpen its approach and develop new practices, Tech Dump regularly communicates with other recyclers, like Isadore Recycling in Los Angeles and Recycle Force in Indianapolis, which provide employment opportunities for teens and adults who have spent time in the criminal justice system.

Tech Dump is open Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., for waste quantities of any size. Tech Dump also operates trucks that travel off-site, by appointment, to pick up larger amounts of waste.
 
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