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A Line or Two: Arts Responding to Foreclosure

I'm impressed with the various ways that arts groups here in the Twin Cities act on their social conscience, and, conversely, how often groups promoting justice and social change take advantage of the arts as tools for communication and inspiration.

Some groups, in fact, are created to fuse the two impulses from the very beginning. A case in point is Arts Responding to Foreclosure, whose somewhat whimsical acronym (ARF) suggests an alert canine—a good guard dog protecting a house.

I learned about ARF last week, when I was invited by friends in the faith-based social-justice organization ISAIAH to join a peaceful and prayerful little "flash mob" in front of a Frogtown house facing foreclosure; the rally was also in support of a proposed Saint Paul ordinance that would mandate face-to-face mediation before foreclosures are finalized.

There I met photographer and teacher Barry Kleider, ARF's cofounder, and he let me in on how the organization works. He also invited everyone present to a potluck and community meeting--Thursday, November 1--to learn more about ARF and help plan its next moves.

A Community Effort

ARF is a notable example of what's been dubbed the "community arts" movement, inviting everyday people to express real issues in their lives with artistic means and with the help of professional artists. It began as a work group of the Creative Communities Leadership Institute, run by Intermedia Arts. In March of 2011 Kleider teamed up with spoken-word artist and life coach Sheronda Orridge and singer Conie Borchardt to plan spoken word and photography workshops and community sings that would reflect the experience of foreclosure.

When the Leadership Institute session ended, the trio decided that they had a viable organization on their hands, and funding from theU of M's Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) and the State Arts Board—via the Legacy Amendment--followed. ARF has also partnered with District 7, the Frogtown neighborhood association, and benefited from the strong support of the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent (CHAT) and the Aurora/Saint Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation, Kleider told me.

ARF has held one workshop in each of its three artistic disciplines, and if you go to the potluck/community meeting this Thursday, you'll have a chance to see the results: there'll be group singing, spoken word performances, and an unveiling of around eighteen of the 75 banners (see photo for an example) created in the Kleider-led documentary photography workshop.

The banners represent the first major visual impact that the organization will have around town; Kleider says that about half of them have sites for display at this point. They'll go up on foreclosed houses, on churches, businesses, and on the sites of ARF's partners—CHAT, District 7, and Aurora/Saint Anthony.

The point, Kleider says, is not only to communicate stories of foreclosure and its impact to elected officials and others in authority, but "to make it clear to people who live outside of the Frogtown neighborhood that foreclosure isn't just the personal problem of the one undergoing it. We as a community need to see the impact it has on the whole city, the state, and the nation. A house in foreclosure makes my house and your house worth less. When someone is being forced out of his or her house, it's our problem too."

Arts Responding to Foreclosure
Community Meeting
Thursday, November 1, 2012
6:00pm to 8:30pm
King's Crossing
Dale and University, Saint Paul
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