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Little Mekong brand helps draw people to the Central Corridor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Va-Megn Thoj
Writer: Anna Pratt

Little free libraries come to St. Paul

After reading about the idea, St. Paul-ite Paul Rogne was inspired to build a little free library in his yard.

The lending libraries, which resemble a cross between a mailbox and a birdhouse, offer books for passersby to exchange.

All over the globe, the Little Free Library movement, which started off as a two-person project, is taking off.

When they introduced the first little free library a couple of years ago, the movement’s originators, Todd Bol and Rick Brooks, who are based in Madison, Wis., probably had no idea it would spread as it has.

It turned out to be a relatively easy, grassroots way to encourage reading and community. Today, they have a goal of establishing at least 2,510 little free library boxes worldwide. To register or find the lending libraries, people can search a map on their website. 

In St. Paul, Rogne put the finishing touches on the literary lawn ornament this week.
The little free libraries have a slogan, “Take a book, leave a book,” which appealed to Rogne, and his wife, Barb, both of whom are avid readers.  

“We love to share good books,” he says via email, adding, “Used bookstores pay so little that we would rather just give them away to others who want to read them.”

The little free library is also a fun way to connect with neighbors, he says. Plus, his neighborhood gets plenty of foot traffic. A couple others are close to his house, too. “We think having this little library along our sidewalk will get good use.”

Also nearby, a group of students and educators constructed a number of the little free libraries in St. Paul's Frogtown neighborhood as a part of the 23rd annual National Service-Learning Conference and youthrive PeaceJam Leadership Conference that took place on April 14, according to a recent Pioneer Press story.

The libraries that they decorated have been planted in the neighborhood's various community garden spaces.

“Maybe this will catch on and spread,” Rogne says. “Wouldn’t that be terrific?"

Source: Paul Rogne
Writer: Anna Pratt

Finnegans beer finds a new home in Elliot Park

Finnegans beer, which donates its profits to charity, recently relocated from the historic Hinkle-Murphy House in Minneapolis’s Elliot Park neighborhood to a new office space just down the street.

The nonprofit brewer had to look for a new home base after the Hinkle-Murphy changed ownership, according to Finnegans staffer Tricia Nelson.

The 1,600-square-foot first-floor office space in the building at 609 S. 10th St., which also houses the Segue Cafe, among other tenants, had been vacant for some time. “We were lucky to find this space,” she says, adding, “We wanted to stay in Elliot Park. There are so many other great businesses and nonprofits nearby.”   

As another plus, the space has room for expansion further down the line, she says.

Although the set-up is still a work in progress, the space has seen some minor alterations, including a new paint job. The walls, which have been painted two shades of green, match its logo. 

To keep the budget down, most of the furniture in the offices, kitchen and meeting and reception areas, has been donated.  

Nelson says she hopes to create a friendly, relaxed atmosphere in the office. “None of us are cubicle people," she adds.  

Because it’s not able to host brewery tours, the organization wants to visually show its “Charitably Delicious Tour,”or history, in the brightly colored entryway.

With pictures and words, along with such curios as old beer tap handles, it'll tell about its efforts to fight hunger in the state and beyond. “We want this to be a well-branded storefront area,” that “shows off the brand and shares the mission and story.”

The entryway will also be a “nice space for happy hours,” and other gatherings, she says. 

Source: Tricia Nelson, Finnegans  
Writer: Anna Pratt

Irrigate Arts trains 200 artists to do public art along Central Corridor

This past winter, over 200 artists trained to do collaborative public art projects as a part of Irrigate.

It's a creative placemaking initiative for the coming Central Corridor light rail transit line. 
The workshops have seen more than double the level of participation that was anticipated for their first year by Springboard for the Arts, which is administering the initiative, according to Laura Zabel, who leads the organization.
“It’s a demonstration of the demand and interest in artists engaging the community,” she says, adding that emerging and established artists from a wide variety of disciplines have gotten involved.
Once artists go through the training, they can apply for grant money to do collaborative projects along the Central Corridor. Already, a number of mural projects have come out of the project, along with a concert series and more. “We’re really starting to feel the momentum,” she says.
For example, Leonardo’s Basement in Minneapolis is working with the Avalon School in St. Paul to create something it’s calling “sculptural mobile units,” which will travel to various events. 
A new business at Frogtown Square in St. Paul, which isn’t ready to go public yet, worked with Irrigate to organize a workshop called, “Make it Mysterious.” Artists designed temporary murals for the space. It led to “really cool visual pieces that animate that corner,” and the business is building on it, says Zabel. 
The various art events draw people to the corridor, which is especially important as construction is ramping up again, she says.
Irrigate is open to suggestions; on its website, it has a map where people can identify spots where art is needed. “I’ve seen people saying, here’s this ugly wall or huge dead tree, or available green space,” she says. “People know that artists think of all those things as opportunities.”
Source: Laura Zabel, Executive Director, Springboard for the Arts
Writer: Anna Pratt

Harvest Moon Backyard Farms delivers fresh produce to those in need

This year, Harvest Moon Backyard Farmers is expanding on its mission to set up sustainable “mini-farms,” and to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to those in need.
Recently, Harvest Moon’s urban farming experts, Krista Leraas and Dina Kountoupes, raised $9,000 through a Kickstarter campaign, to further the cause.
It's helped to connect the pair to Habitat for Humanity, which “finds homeowners who are interested in gardening, who don’t have the resources or knowledge,” Leraas says.

Leraas and Kountoupes provide expertise and labor to the homeowners, helping them grow fresh organic produce. They may also lend a hand, depending on a homeowner's needs, for the remainder of the growing season.
As a part of another initiative that Harvest Moon has in the works, it's teaming up with the Shir Tikvah synagogue to bring items from its food-shelf gardens to the Aliveness Project.
It’s a natural partnership, considering that the Aliveness Project, which is a community center for people living with HIV/AIDS, is “very keen to getting a lot of good nutrition to people," she says.

Since the farmers started Harvest Moon a couple of years ago, they’ve worked with various homeowners, renters, businesses, and communities to establish “productive spaces.”
“Our whole philosophy is based on sustainability and sharing the surplus,” Leraas says.
“Many of us have forgotten what it’s like to have fresh sustenance coming from our work,” she says. “We view our yards as just kind of there.”
Harvest Moon is trying to reverse that trend. It’s about supporting “permaculture,” which is a combination of permanence and culture, meaning sustainability, she explains. “The idea is to be in harmony with natural law.” 
Source: Krista Leraas, Harvest Moon Backyard Farmers
Writer: Anna Pratt



Public art project makes poetry pedestrian

The landscape is filled with the written word--but usually for the purposes of advertising or regulation.

Marcus Young, The city of St. Paul's artist in residence, says it's common to come across signage everyday that says things like “Buy one, get one free” or “No guns allowed.” He asks, why not poetry?

That reflection inspired him to start the Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk project, which is now in its fifth year in St. Paul. The idea is to bring beautiful text into the public realm, he says.

Considering that the city repairs up to 10 miles of sidewalk every year, “What better than to transform something mundane, that we take for granted, like the sidewalk system?”

Through the project, which is based on one of his earlier endeavors, poets compete to have their verses chosen to be stamped in wet concrete. The sidewalk becomes a medium for reading and writing, and thus “a walk becomes an experience of reading and imagining.”  

The contest, which has an April 13 deadline, prompts people to “think about what they would like to write in this big book” that is the city.

The city is looking for short, high-quality poems “that say something about everyday life and maybe even capture the moment of reading, looking down [on the sidewalk] and reflecting.” (Read the guidelines here.)

A handful of winners will be chosen in May, and the poems will be stamped onto various residential sidewalks around the city. Winners will also be awarded a cash prize of $150 apiece.

Young hopes that the poems take some people by surprise, and make their walk more enjoyable.

Also, winning poets get to be a part of the process of stamping the concrete slabs with their verses. “We all have the desire to stick our finger into wet concrete,” Young says. “This is that impulse glorified and sanctioned.”
One of his favorite poems to go into “circulation” reads: “A dog on a walk is like a person in love. You can’t tell them it’s the same old world.”

He expects that by the end of the year, 42 poems will be appear in and around the city, many repeatedly.

Source: Marcus Young, artist in residence, St. Paul  
Writer: Anna Pratt

'State of the Arts District' forum in Northeast Minneapolis to expand on vibrant arts scene

The Northeast Minneapolis Arts District, which was established to recognize a vibrant local arts scene, took on formal boundaries in 2002 after various community leaders combined forces with the city and the McKnight Foundation.

Since then, the district has taken off, especially in the last couple of years, and many community members want to build on that, according to Susan Wagner Ginter, who chairs the board for the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association (NEMAA).

To do so, it’s taking part in the first-ever “State of the Arts District” forum on April 12 at Chowgirls Parlor, organized by the Northeast Community Development Corporation, the Northeast Chamber of Commerce, and the participating speakers.

The event capitalizes on the fact that, “NEMAA is stronger and the arts district is a reality,” Ginter says.

For example, its annual arts crawl, titled “Art-a-Whirl,” brings 50,000 people to the area, she says, adding that the event's business impact is huge.

The question is, “How do we keep the momentum going and keep a stream of people coming into Northeast and discovering the amazing resource that we have?”

Hopefully the forum will help the community plan its next steps. “It’s about how to integrate the arts into the community and keep it vibrant,” she says.    

At the forum, Josh Blanc, who co-owns Clay Squared to Infinity with his wife, Layl McDill, will talk about their experience with a downtown pop-up art store, which they ran in a vacant space over the winter.

“They took a risk and they did really well selling their artwork,” Wagner says.  

Further, it’s a good example of artists getting out of their studios and into the community, a move that has a lot of potential, she says.

She hopes that the forum will bring together community leaders who’ve been instrumental in setting up the district, along with others who want to get involved.

Source: Susan Wagner Ginter, president, NEMAA board
Writer: Anna Pratt 

30 Days of Biking emphasizes local biking efforts

The third annual “30 Days of Biking” event encourages community members to bike somewhere every day during the month of April.

It’s hosting a number of “group rides” and other events to keep the momentum up and introduce participants to each other, according to information posted on its website.   

So far, 1,900 people have signed up for the local challenge, according to the site. Patrick Stephenson, a spokesperson for the group, expects that figure to increase to 4,000.

Over the past several years, the event has gotten bigger and bigger, which is a trend that he’d like to see continue.

In 2010, 600 people joined in the first 30 Days. “It’s a city that’s really excited about bikes,” and the infrastructure is there to support this type of program, he says. There are a number of bike paths in place, “which is probably the reason why Minneapolis has taken hold of it.”

This time around, 30 Days of Biking is hosting a story contest. It’s asking for brief essays about a moment that stands out during the biking month. “Any life-changing epiphanies? Spiritual awakenings? Fun times with friends and family?” the project asks on its website.

It’s also asking people to share their stories via social media. “I really like the grassroots flavor,” Stephenson says. “We’re trying to make it as fun and popular as we can.”

Looking ahead, he’d like to see the event “get more legitimate,” and that “we get better at doing it” and put more time into it. Hopefully it’ll have “more things that people can share.”  

Source: Patrick Stephenson, 30 Days of Biking
Writer: Anna Pratt

Zinnia Folk Arts shop to feature Mexican handicrafts

Anne Damon has long considered opening a Mexican folk-arts shop, so when a Southwest Minneapolis space became available earlier this year, she jumped at it.

She plans to open Zinnia Folks Arts at the end of April, and the grand opening is scheduled for May.

Zinnia Folk Arts will be a cross between a gallery, gift shop, and folk art store, she says.

Kurimay Upholstery had occupied the space at the corner of 46th and Bryant Avenue South for 40 years, according to Damon.

Damon spruced up the space, making only slight changes, swapping out the lighting, painting, and doing minor repairs, she says.

To show off the brightly colored items, the walls will be painted in neutral shades. The place will have a “clean, contemporary aesthetic."

In the past, Damon, who has collected Mexican folk art since she was in high school, had pop-up sales in her house and later, an interior design studio. For a while, she also shared a space with seven other shop owners who are part of the Guild Collective in St. Louis Park. At the same time, “I always wanted my own space," she says.

At Zinnia, she plans to feature “beautiful items you don’t often see in the Midwest,” including home goods, jewelry, ceramics, textiles, gifts, and more.

The idea is to give people a taste of Mexican folk culture.

Too often, these kinds of objects get put in storage in museum collections, she says. “I hope to not only show people these incredible handmade pieces, but also educate people about the artist and process.” She adds that she buys objects directly from artisans working in non-tourist-y areas.

Source: Anne Damon, owner, Zinnia Folk Arts
Writer: Anna Pratt

$2,000 film explores public art in Minneapolis and St. Paul

The eight-minute documentary “A Fistful of Public Art,” plays off of the title of the 1964 spaghetti western A Fistful of Dollars but celebrates creativity rather than crime.

Deacon Warner, youth program coordinator at IFP Center for Media Arts, a St. Paul-based nonprofit, worked with a seven-member group of students from Avalon High School to create the film.

The opportunity came from Forecast Public Art, “which was interested in doing something with IFP and youth to promote public art, to raise awareness,” says Warner. It made sense because Warner was already doing a residency with the nearby school.

The students, with Warner’s help, shot the film over the winter, for $2,000.

They focused on five works in Minneapolis and St. Paul, including a large-scale piece titled "P.S.--Wish You Were Here," by Stanton Gray Sears, and Lisa Elias’s stylized bus bench “Forged Roots."

Students interviewed the artists behind the artworks. Afterwards, they used the works as a backdrop for surveying people in the street--with a catch: the filmmakers concealed the works with tarps, then grilled passersby about what they thought was under wraps. Many people couldn’t recall that a piece of public art had been covered up, but for the most part, interviewees were positive about public art, once the point of the exercise was explained to them.

Warner hopes that viewers will take away an appreciation for public art, which “helps create an identity as a community, creating something of meaning that’s lasting.” It's a function, he says, that can be overlooked at times.

The filming seemed to create meaning for the young crew as well. "What’s most exciting about the project and working with the youth is seeing their voice emerge and the project develop,” Warner says.

The movie started out with talking heads-- “something staid, but then they introduced the idea of ‘Men in Black’ kind of raids on art,” which “made it much more engaging,” he says, adding that even a pigeon plays a an amusing role in the movie.

Source: Deacon Warner, IFP Media Arts
Writer: Anna Pratt

Guthrie audio tour highlights behind-the-scenes stories of the building

The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis recently updated its self-guided audio tour of the building, which allows people to learn more about the theater at their own pace.

It’s accessible via smartphone, iPod, or other listening device, and devices can be checked out from the theater, according to Guthrie spokesperson Quinton Skinner.

The 40-minute tour takes people through various levels of the building, starting with the main lobby. Users can get behind-the-scenes details about the structure's architecture and history, including its auditoriums, artwork, lobbies, cafes, and meeting spaces.

A highlight is the cantilevered “endless bridge” that reaches toward the Mississippi River.

From level nine, people get a chance to take in “one of the best views of the city,” Skinner says.

The tour goes on to describe the building’s shiny blue facade, which is decorated with images of  playwrights who have special ties to the theater, he explains.

One benefit of the tour is that it's self-guided, so that “if someone is really entranced by a view, they can pause and reflect.”

When starting out, listeners get to choose between six different narrators: St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, WCCO-TV news anchor Angela Davis, performer and writer Kevin Kling, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Cities 97 radio personality Brian (B.T.) Turner, and actor Sally Wingert, according to Guthrie information.

The idea behind the tour is to “remind people that the Guthrie is...[a] community treasure that’s open to the public everyday,” even when shows aren’t happening, Skinner says.

He admits that “it was a lot of hard work, working on the script and recording it and editing it and making it user-friendly,” but he hopes that the result is something that appeals to both out-of-towners and locals who are curious about the theater.  

Source: Quinton Skinner
Writer: Anna Pratt

$200,000-in-progress Forage Modern Workshop to help revitalize East Lake Street

A former carpenters' union office on East Lake Street in Minneapolis is being re-imagined as the Forage Modern Workshop.

Brownsmith Restoration is redeveloping the building, which will house its offices along with a furniture store and a brand/idea workshop, according to Brownsmith partner James Brown.

It’ll take nearly $200,000 to turn it around, he says. (Check out its progress here.)

Forage will feature local furniture makers who specialize in modern and vintage designs, he says, adding, “It’ll be kind of like Design Within Reach but on more of a local scale.”

Small manufacturers and designers will sell new and existing lines in the store. Certain home goods, such as specialty wallpaper, will also be available. “It’ll be a curated store, with stuff that we think is really cool,” he says.

Inside, there will also be a café, which will be furnished with tables and chairs from the shop.

The redesign of the 1951 building will reflect its roots with a mid-century modern aesthetic. Reclaimed oak paneling is just one way that Brownsmith will create that, he says.

Forage’s store will launch online first, within the coming weeks, while the café will be ready within six months, according to Brown.

Already, Brown is thinking about ways to make the place, which sat vacant for a year, a destination.

In the future, the building could also be a drop-off location for community-supported agriculture (CSA). It's already hosted various performance art activities. “We’re trying to make ourselves culturally significant,” he says.

East Lake Street is “an important commercial part of the city,” he says. “We want to help redevelop it,” and that, he adds, will “help the surrounding properties a ton.”

Source: James Brown, Brownsmith Restoration
Writer: Anna Pratt

Sculpture designs sought for $400K Sheridan Veterans Memorial Park project

Soon, a memorial honoring veterans will have a spot on the south end of Sheridan Memorial Park in Northeast Minneapolis, which has views of the Mississippi River.  
The $400,000 public art installation has been in the works for five years, according to Deborah Bartels, a project manager from the Park Board.
Local veterans collaborated with the Sheridan Neighborhood Organization (SNO) to enhance the new park, which eventually will hook up with the regional trail system along the river, with various amenities, including picnic areas, playgrounds, and more, she says.
University of Minnesota designers came up with a concept for the site. The plan for the memorial was presented at a Feb. 21 open house at Park Board headquarters. Soon, the board will select an artist for the sculpture through a competitive application process.   
A sculpture that speaks to “memorial and sacrifice” will go into the middle of a circular plaza, the Park Board’s website states.
Surrounding the sculpture will be vertical markers that speak to the nine conflicts that Minnesotans have fought in. They’ll give some background on the wars, including personal anecdotes.  
An “empty” marker will “represent the precarious nature of peace,” according to Park Board information.   
 All along the way will be paths, benches, and green space; trees will ring the outer edge. 
As for the sculpture, “We’d like to see what people come up with,” says Bartels. “We don’t want it to be representational.” The idea is to do something that’s “contemplative in nature,” she says.
Site work will wrap up by Veterans Day this year, while the main sculpture will be finished in time for Memorial Day in 2013.
Source: Deborah Bartels, project manager, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board
Writer: Anna Pratt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Videotect 2 picks winning videos with sustainable transportation theme

Videotect 2, the second annual video competition from Architecture Minnesota magazine, got people thinking in many different directions about sustainable transportation.
The 39 submissions included everything from an old-timey PSA about the benefits of walking to a Super Bowl-commercial-inspired video about getting around in the future.
The grand prizewinner, "SaddleBag," which won a $2,000 prize, was announced at the competition’s March 1 screening at the Walker Art Center. (Watch it below.)
Gaardhouse and Shelter Architecture teamed up on the video, which was tongue-in-cheek yet informative. “I hope more outfits take a cue from it,” Hudson says. “It had a great story line with lots of facts and it was easy to read and understand the diagrams.”   
The most popular video among viewers, which also received a $2,000 check, was “Twin Cities Trails,” by Steven Gamache, Matt Herzog, Ben Lindau, Chris Lyner, and Mike Oertel. It showed a 1980s hair band that sang about the Twin Cities’ unmatched trail system. “It spoofed Queen amazingly,” he says, adding, “It was inventive and funny.”   
The $500 honorable mention awards went to the “Church of Automobility,” by Michael Heller and Ryan O’Malley, “A Fistful of Asphalt,” by John Akre, “Over/Under,” by Daniel Green, and “Sustainable Transportation,” by Ryan Yang. 
In general, guidelines for the 30- to 120-second videos were pretty open-ended. The pieces just had to “present a point of view on transportation choices, their impact on the environment and human health, and the role that design can play in enhancing them,” according to a statement about the competition.
Why is the magazine doing it? “The crux of it is, trying to bring more voices and creativity into urban design debates. It can be dry stuff, but it’s so important to the quality of our lives and how we design cities,” Hudson says. Videotect is a “great way to have fun with it, to make it entertaining to get at some of these issues that we keep debating as citizens.”

That's evident in the fact that the contest drew more submissions this year, and online voting spiked by 250 percent, he says.
Source: Chris Hudson, editor, Architecture Minnesota
Writer: Anna Pratt


Videotect 2: SaddleBag from Architecture Minnesota on Vimeo.

315 Arts and Culture Articles | Page: | Show All
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