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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.”
 

C4ward opens doors to cultural districts along Green Line

The Green Line light-rail line opens doors to a number of emerging cultural districts along University Avenue in the Central Corridor. Throughout the rest of the summer and into the fall, C4ward: Arts and Culture Along the Green Line is inviting Twin Cities’ residents to explore six of these districts through a series of free arts-centered events occurring every other Saturday. The next event is Saturday August 9 in the Rondo and Victoria neighborhoods off the Victoria Station.

The series of events kicked off July 26 in the Little Mekong District during one of the five Southeast Asian Night Markets planned this summer. Other districts on the C4ward docket, in addition to Rondo/Frogtown, are Little Africa, Creative Enterprise Zone, Prospect Park and West Bank.

For years, University Avenue existed mainly as a thoroughfare—a place to be traveled through on the way to someplace else. The array of new cultural districts popping up is evidence that that area’s identity is already changing, says Kathy Mouacheupao, Cultural Corridor coordinator with the Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), which is organizing C4ward in partnership with leaders from each of the cultural districts.

“When you’re driving down University, people usually have their destination planned already—you really miss a lot of the richness, a lot of the cultural identities, the really cool things that are happening along the corridor,” she says.

Whether it’s the abundant entrepreneurs, artists and unique shopping in the Creative Enterprise Zone near the Raymond Ave. Station, or the string of African-owned businesses a short jaunt off the Snelling Ave. stop, C4ward is looking to draw new visitors to burgeoning points of cultural and artistic vibrancy that might have been previously overlooked.

“We’re trying to groove new patterns,” Mouacheupao says. “One of the nice things about the Green Line light rail is that people are starting to notice things they didn’t notice before when they were driving.”

The rich arts and creative communities that quietly thrive along the Central Corridor will be on full display at the C4ward events. From do-it-yourself letterpress printing to illuminated mask making, Mouacheupao says the artists involved are dedicated to engaging and building community. “We all live and breathe art,” she says. Art is one way in which “we communicate with each other.”

 

Made Here/Parklot activate Hennepin Avenue

Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis continues to become more pedestrian-friendly and arts-oriented. Made Here, an outdoor urban walking gallery featuring dozens of unique art installations in vacant storefronts, launched last week alongside Parklot, a colorful pop-up in the surface parking lot next to the Orpheum Theatre. Both are part of Hennepin Theatre Trust’s 10th annual Summer in the City event.

Joan Vorderbruggen, Hennepin Theatre Trust’s cultural district arts coordinator, directed Made Here. Her Made Here showcase is the largest storefront- gallery initiative in the country. The current Made Here is the third and most ambitious show. It includes more than 50 artists and arts organizations from diverse disciplines, which have created 36 unique storefront displays across 15 city blocks.

Both projects are part of the Trust’s ongoing initiative to revitalize a cultural district that includes the historic Orpheum, State, Pantages and New Century theaters, as well as other arts and cultural institutions such as First Avenue and The Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts.

On paper, the area seems a vibrant and walkable downtown district. But it suffers from a perceived “unevenness,” says Tom Hoch, Trust president, citing a 2010 survey and strategic planning session. Contributing to that unevenness are blocks of vacant storefronts and surface parking lots interspersed among the cultural institutions.

“No Vacancy,” a poignant Made Here installation by artist Robin Schwartzman, speaks directly to this issue. The work spans 18 windows across the second floor of the recently vacated Chevy’s building at 701 Hennepin Avenue. Blank paper covers the windows during the day while a neon sign reads “Vacancy.” Once the sun sets, the sign changes to “Sorry, No Vacancy,” and the windows come alive with animated silhouettes depicting scenes of people dancing, someone getting their hair cut, and other activities.

“When a space is vacant, it’s a void, and when it’s not, it’s vibrant,” Vorderbruggen explains, describing how “No Vacancy” relates to the overall project.

Similarly, Parklot activates an otherwise dormant space. A brightly painted checkerboard pattern covers the parking lot’s surface, extending on to the sidewalk and up the walls of adjacent buildings. Lush planters and configurable park furniture made from wooden pallets make the pop-up public gathering space tough to miss. Programming includes improv comedy from Brave New Workshop, break dancing and musical performances.

Four additional pop-up parks are planned for this year. The current Made Here installations are on display through October, and include a work from the Somali Museum of Minnesota—the only such museum in the country—that incorporates two authentic huts shipped from Djibouti, as well as other artifacts and art demonstrating traditional nomadic life.

Vorderbruggen says she intentionally ensured the Made Here art and artists reflect the diverse Twin Cities population that would encounter the work. More than 40 percent of the artists represented come from communities of color, she says.

She and Hoch also hope art installations in vacant storefronts become commonplace. “This is not a one-time thing,” Hoch says. “This is the way we hope all vacant storefronts in downtown Minneapolis are handled—that they are always programmed and that we have this connection with art, artists and space.”

“Downtown is everybody’s neighborhood,” he adds. “We’re providing opportunities for everybody to be here.”

 

Alchemy Architects adds third prefab module to school

At Cornerstone Elementary School on the Montessori Center of Minnesota's (MCM) campus on St. Paul's East Side, innovative architecture and design are creating a unique learning environment that fits a holistic curriculum serving the school’s 160 students.

A 157,000-pound hydraulic crane recently dropped a new modular classroom into place, completing a 3-year, 25 percent expansion of the public charter school that is part of the MCM program. Total cost of the expansion is $1.45 million, including landscaping and a greenhouse.

The 1,500-square-foot prefabricated classroom is the third to be installed on the property and will house one of the school’s two upper-elementary classes (grades 4-6). The other upper-elementary classroom and one lower-elementary classroom are housed in two other modular classrooms installed during previous years. The other lower-elementary classroom is housed in the main structure on campus.

Lining the property’s natural wetlands, the three modular classrooms were designed by St. Paul-based Alchemy Architects whose weeHouse design and construction system specializes in prefabricated energy-efficient structures.

The unique classrooms support MCM’s philosophy of providing the best for the smallest in developing students rich in “character, will and spirit,” according to Liza Davis, special programs coordinator at the school. The classroom structures feature large windows that bring the natural setting directly into the learning environment.

“The response of the children—when they can sit and watch the change of the seasons or ducks laying their eggs—from the windows in their classroom has been pretty remarkable, especially for the urban children,” Davis said.

A teacher training organization since 1973, MCM wanted to expand its outreach and elementary education, which led to the relocation of the center to its current site in 2008 and the addition of Cornerstone Elementary in 2011.

The school is focused on providing excellence in education and youth development to diverse communities that often face barriers to quality education. More than 60 percent of the student population qualifies for free or reduced lunch, according to Davis.

The use of modular classrooms has practical advantages, as well. They provide a financially savvy way to gradually expand facilities as the school grows over time.

“The charter school very quickly needed to have more space to really serve the number of children it needed to serve,” Davis said. “We needed to expand the campus and have beautiful spaces but still be financially responsible.”

Being able to expand in an affordable way that adds a valuable layer of education makes MCM’s expansion unique. The modular classrooms incorporate all facets of the curriculum in the same space with science facilities, and even a kitchen built into the structures.

“You really feel like you are in a living community space, not just a classroom that is separated into sections,” Davis says.

As with the previous installations, students and their families watched the new structure get hoisted 30 feet into the air and set in place. Davis says the design and installation process give students a sense of ownership over their learning environment.

As an example, the patios off the classrooms needed a good bit of shoveling during winter. Davis says the students were eager to pick up shovels and get to work taking care of their space.

“Seeing that something is intentional, that it’s beautiful, and that there are natural materials involved…helps communicate the same philosophy that drives our work with the children,” she adds.

 

Open Streets debuts proposed greenway in North Minneapolis

The 2014 season of Open Streets Minneapolis kicked-off during the last weekend in May with festivities along a proposed three-and-a half-mile greenway in North Minneapolis. Roads were closed from West Broadway to North 42nd avenues along North Girard and Humboldt avenues for residents and cyclists to experience first-hand how a new bike/walk route would look and feel.

“The proposed greenway could provide a recreational and community route for bicyclists, pedestrians and other non-motorized travelers,” said Sarah Stewart, senior public health specialist with the City of Minneapolis, who is working on the project. “The route would serve as a north-south connection for bicyclists who are more comfortable on bikeways” than on the streets.

Sponsored by the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, the event hosted vendors, performances and bike advocates from across the Twin Cities, giving riders a festive environment to roam the streets sans vehicles.

Turf was laid down on either side of the street at one point in the route to show a full linear park greenway. At another point, half the road was partitioned off, turning the current two-way street into a one-way road with a protected bike lane.

These are two of several models being considered for the new route. A third would keep two-way traffic, but designate the streets as bike boulevards—adding signage and other traffic calming measures friendly to bicyclists.

The City of Minneapolis, which became an official partner of the Open Streets initiative last year, is currently gathering public input about the new route, which has yet to be finalized or funded.

In addition to providing a centrally located route for commuters, connecting them to the northern suburbs via the Cedar Lake Trail and the downtown area via the Plymouth Avenue and 7th Street North bike routes, Stewart says the project would also create a space for people to be physically active.

“This is important because statistics show North Minneapolis residents are more likely to have chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure, and they are less likely to be physically active…People who live closer to parks and green spaces are more physically active,” Stewart says.

The proposed route would also connect several destinations that serve area youth like parks, schools, a YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club, and a library, Stewart added.

Most of the roads along the proposed route are relatively low-traffic, residential streets that see between 400 and 900 cars daily, according to Stewart.

Several residents along the route expressed concern about losing street access to their homes should the streets be converted to a full linear park greenway. Stewart says alley access to residences along the route would be maintained. Input via an online survey indicated the proposed greenway is a potential draw for new residents, visitors and investment in North Minneapolis.

People can provide input on the proposed project through June 15 by filling out an online survey. The City will analyze the input and report the results in early fall. Feasibility studies are also underway.

This Open Streets event was the first of six planned for this summer in Minneapolis. The next will take place June 8 along Lyndale Avenue South.

Artspace Jackson Flats opens to families in Northeast Mpls

Last weekend, with the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District abuzz with Art-A-Whirl—the largest annual open-studio art tour in the country—the scene was set for the grand opening of Artspace Jackson Flats. The $10 million, 35-unit, live-work artist apartments in Northeast are the first affordable artist housing project in the city from the Minneapolis-based national nonprofit, Artspace.
 
With a large lawn and playset on the property, which is located in the Logan Park neighborhood, Artspace is billing the new property as family-friendly—something president Kelley Lindquist says is something of a rarity in the city.
 
“It’s a little more challenging for young parents to have kids in intense downtown projects…it’s just much easier when the residence is neighborhood-based,” Lindquist says.
 
Children can often lend to the creative and collaborative environment Artspace seeks to foster. Kids are often the first to break down communication walls, running through the halls and forming relationships with other children in the building.
 
“Eventually the parents start hanging out and start sharing their different artistic skills and coming up with new creative projects—and they may never have done so without their children paving the way,” Lindquist says.
 
Other Artspace projects like the Frogtown Family Lofts in St. Paul—the organization’s second project ever, completed in 1991—are also good examples of children spurring collaboration in creative environments.
 
Artist and Jackson Flats resident April Barnhart, who launched her Aprilierre jewelry line in 2009, says she is already benefitting from the artist community developing in and beyond the building.
 
“It’s really not an easy decision when you decide to commit your life to the arts,” she says.  “Having the right resources and the right workspace are important to cultivate creativity.”
 
Being in close proximity to other creative people has advantages as well. Barnhart experienced these benefits first hand when she ran into a neighbor in the building who heard she was a jeweler. He happened to have a set of glass display cases he no long needed and thought she could put them to good use.
 
“They were exactly what I’ve been looking for in antique stores for years,” she said.
 
As much as Jackson Flats was built for artists, it was also a product of the artist community to begin with. When former Northeast Community Investment Cooperative Executive Director John Vaughn sat down with the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association in 2004, the organization’s goals were specific: First, to create and arts district, and second, was to build artist housing.
 
“We took that heart and that became our mission,” Vaughn says. He brought in architects from UrbanWorks Architecture to a neighborhood meeting where he talked with artists and residents of the area about what they wanted from the building that would become Jackson Flats.
 
As residents threw out ideas, the architect drew them into a design. At the end of the hour-long meeting, the sketch had taken shape. “This building very much looks like it was originally envisioned,” Vaughn said. “It comes very much out of the arts community and out of this community here.
 
The opening of Jackson Flats was part of Artspace’s “Breaking Ground” celebration, which began with a creative placemaking symposium featuring grantees from the St. Paul Companies Leadership Initiatives in Neighborhoods program at the new multi-family residence.

The celebration concluded Monday at an event at the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts (another Artspace project) during which Artspace presented numerous awards. The awardees included Catherine Jordon of Minneapolis, recipient of the Paul Brawner Award for Support of the Arts.
 
 
 

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.

Night market debuts June 14 in St. Paul's Little Mekong

The vibrant blend of sights, smells, sounds, and people milling together at Southeast Asian night markets can be a vivid sensory and cultural experience. This summer, the Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA) is bringing a slice of that life to the Twin Cities.

Throughout the summer, AEDA will hold five outdoor night markets in the Little Mekong business and cultural district of Saint Paul, between the Mai Village and Little Szechuan restaurants on the 300 block of University Avenue. The first market will be held June 14, the same day the Green Line’s light-rail service begins.

The Little Mekong district is home to a high concentration of Asian residents and businesses. Of the almost 80 establishments on the five-block stretch of University between Mackubin and Marion streets, about 75 percent are Asian-owned according to a 2013 AEDA study documenting the impact of Central Corridor Light Rail Transit on the area.

Many of these small businesses were hit hard by light-rail construction over the last several years, according Theresa Swaney, AEDA’s communications coordinator. AEDA hopes to bring needed visibility, and customers, to businesses still reeling from the disruption. Swaney also hopes the night markets will help breathe new life into the area as a nighttime destination. “It’s sort of shifting the idea of what’s acceptable, and possible, at night,” she says.

Like farmers markets, the Little Mekong night markets will host local farmers selling fresh produce, but also up to 30 different vendors selling specialty food, art, and crafts. “It’s sort of this mix between a festival and a farmers market,” says Swaney. “It’s going to be a little more entertaining and a little more exciting than just getting your vegetables.” Artist organizer Oskar Ly is planning live performances, art, and activities as part of the market.

Organizers are currently looking for businesses and vendors located from throughout the Twin Cities to participate. Unlike many markets, applicants don’t have to be established. “We’re pushing toward new vendors,” Swaney says. “We want these people to have an opportunity to sell their stuff, and if they do well, maybe draw them into opening a brick-and-mortar business in the district or along University.”

AEDA also hopes the night markets will help lay ground for a new public plaza and community gathering space at the site. A rundown building used mostly for storage currently sits in the middle of the plot. The organization recently held a series of workshops and community meetings to gather input on redeveloping the site.

Source: Theresa Swaney
Writer: Kyle Mianulli

ARTIFY transforms Midway lot into public art site

One year ago, the former Midway Chevrolet car dealership at 1333 University Avenue was yet another vacant lot along the Central Corridor—a remnant from a previous era when car dealerships dominated the Midway area of Saint Paul. Today, the lot stands as a colorful, artistic sign of things to come.

Over the past year, artist/organizer Oskar Ly has been working on a large-scale public art project at the site dubbed “ARTIFY—Bringing the Arts to Hamline Station.” Her project aims to create a renewed sense of place around the site ahead of a 108-unit affordable housing development, which Project for Pride in Living plans to break ground on this spring.

Ly brought community members and more than two-dozen local artists together to create 20 public art installments and 11 performances at the lot—all based on the theme “Home is…” She says the goal is to signify the transformation of an abandoned business to a place people would soon call home.

ARTIFY capped-off its yearlong project with a final celebration, “Midway is Home,” last Saturday. Artists reflected on their work, while spectators toured the grounds to view the various installments. Poetry for Thought, a local effort to inspire community dialogue through spoken word performances, organized area poets to present original works and spark discussion of what “home” means.

Janell Repp, a Saint Paul native, has lived all over the world, most recently in India. For her, home is often changing, she says. She once purchased a car at the Midway Chevrolet dealership. “I sat in this office and signed the papers,” she said. “It’s funny how time changes…you make your home where you are… and you keep moving through time.”

The most visible installation to passerby is a large mural painted at the Saint Paul Open Streets event last summer. It depicts a row of colorful houses over the façade of the old dealership with the words “Home is Hamline Midway” printed across the top. Another piece involves 108 house-shaped wood cutouts decorated by area youth with their own ideas of what “home” is.

Mischa Keagan and Witt Siasoco held several workshops at the Hamline Midway and Rondo libraries where people traced places they considered home on large green canvases that are now on display at the site. “All along people talked about their family, their kids, their homes, and their dogs…it was a really nice way to get to know people in the community,” Keagan said.

Most of the art installments will remain on display till demolition begins this spring. Ly says she has at least one more project planned. She hopes to hang large photos on the fence surrounding the construction site this summer. “I want to create a façade that helps create an environment that’s more community-oriented than if it was just a construction site,” she said.

The future PPL development will feature a public plaza to display art, thanks in part to the ARTIFY project, according to Ly.

ARTIFY is supported by Irrigate Arts, an artist-led creative placemaking initiative that seeks to foster a new sense of place through public art along the Central Corridor. Irrigate is made possible through a partnership between the City of Saint Paul, Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and Springboard for the Arts.

Sources: Oskar Ly, Janell Repp, Mischa Keagan
Writer: Kyle Mianulli

Rock Star Supply Co. in chapter development with 826 National

Rock Star Supply Co.’s busy location, in the Creative Enterprise Zone at the corner of Raymond and University in Saint Paul, is about to get busier. The educational nonprofit—its dedicated volunteers tutor elementary- and secondary-school children on writing, algebra, and other subjects—is working with San Francisco-based tutoring company 826 National to bring one of that organization’s signature “stores” to the Twin Cities.

Rock Star is currently a lively tutoring workshop that offers “a range of programs, all free of charge…[that] focus on project-based learning, homework help, [and] extra-curricular reading, along with spectacular writing prompts and smaller writing workshops,” according to its website. This summer, Rock Star’s headquarters, as part of 826’s new franchise-style expansion initiative, will be rebranded as the “Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute.”

What? The name does make sense. Here’s why. In its 10-plus years, 826 National has developed a clever, family-friendly approach to branding. Each tutoring center (it currently has eight, mostly in major Northern cities) doubles as a store with an unmistakable “angle.” For instance, Boston’s “Bigfoot Research Institute” sells cryptozoology books and paraphernalia.

Chicago’s “Boring Store” doubles as a “Spy Supply Store.” (The “boring” part is meant to throw passers-by off the trail.) Seattle’s “Space Travel Supply Company” sells rocket equipment, space suits, and other accessories to “freelance space travelers.” Each store plows its merchandise earnings back into its tutoring operations. So how did the Twin Cities become home to the Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute?

“We went through an extensive ideation process to arrive at Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute,” says Jeremy Wang, chair of Rock Star’s Executive Board. “We’re playing off the idea that, to most of the country, we’re a ‘fly-over’ state, hence the Mid-Continent. And while we have a lot of coastline, none of it is oceanic.” Wang’s thrilled at the prospect of opening a “sub shop” that doesn’t sell anything edible.

The expansion also comes with challenges. “Our biggest hurdle is to be financially stable enough to build out the storefront and sustain our current programming,” says Wang, noting that the organization has traditionally relied on donations from individuals and foundations. Razoo and upcoming Kickstarter campaigns are providing a crucial shot in the arm.

What can kids, parents, and shoppers expect from Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute, née Rock Star Supply Co.? “I think nearly everyone involved at Rock Star Supply Co. has been inspired by the 826 model,” says Wang. “So we don't really see our programming changing a whole lot as we transition.”

That said, Wang does expect Rock Star to add more writing workshops as the transition date approaches. And there’s the issue of merging educational programming and retail activities. “Unlike other 826 sites, we started without a storefront,” says Wang. “They mostly started their programming at the storefront, then worked their way into schools.”

For now, the folks at Rock Star are working to retain their core mission without neglecting the coming transition. For Wang and the rest of the board, this means seeking help wherever they can find it. “We are always looking for tutors in any subject, especially algebra,” he says, “as we have a whole group of students that comes in for Algebra 2 on Tuesdays.” Rock star math tutors: Take note.

Source: Jeremy Wang
Writer: Brian Martucci

An effort to recognize prominent black Minnesotans at significant locations in St. Paul

St. Paul’s Heritage Preservation Commission is looking at the possibility of putting up several “Old Rondo” street signs in the city’s neighborhood of the same name.  

Frank White, a lifelong St. Paul resident and a history buff, put forward the proposal as a way to symbolically recognize the neighborhood’s history, particularly as it relates to some high-achieving black Minnesotans, according to the Pioneer Press.

White has worked to set in motion several other initiatives in this same vein. For starters, he wants to get more name recognition for Toni Stone Field, a baseball stadium in the Dunning Athletic Complex. This includes mounting a related plaque and sign at the stadium, according to a story from the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.

He’s working on similar projects to get more name recognition for Toni Stone, one of the first female players in Negro league baseball, athlete Jimmy Lee, for which the Jimmy Lee Recreation Center is named, and Dred Scott, a slave who famously argued for freedom in a case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.  

The Heritage Preservation Commission adopted a resolution on February 14 supporting the effort to add and correct the "Old Rondo Avenue" signage, "as it will be a more accurate reflection of Rondo Avenue and allow for greater interpretation of the impacts of the construction of Interstate 94 to this neighborhood," information from the body reads.  

Next, White's proposal will go before the City Council, though the timeline for that is yet to be determined, according to Amy Spong, a St. Paul official who works with the commission.

City Council member Melvin Carter III says, “It went further than what we’ve acknowledged publicly so far to honor the community that exists here in St. Paul. It’s a good thoughtful approach to making sure that we honor our past while building our future together.

“I think Frank has done some important work,” he adds. “It’s always important to understand what history holds.”

It’s about getting a better handle on the future, says Carter, “so young folks who’ve grown up in this community can be aware of the rich set of accomplishments of others and can factor that in as they calculate the prospects for their future.”

Reflecting on White’s hard work, he says, “I appreciate everything he’s done,” adding, “I wish more people were as thoughtful and would look around and come up with ideas to make the city a better place.”

Sources: Amy Spong, City of Saint Paul; Melvin Carter, III, St. Paul City Council
Writer: Anna Pratt


Butter Bakery settles into new space

Just over a week ago, the Butter Bakery Café relocated blocks away from 36th and Grand Avenue in Southwest Minneapolis, to 37th and Nicollet Avenue.

The bakery is planning a grand opening for Oct. 23 in collaboration with the Nicollet Square building, for which it’s a partner, according to owner Dan Swenson-Klatt.

Butter is housed within the three-story Nicollet Square, which provides supportive housing for young people who are at risk for homelessness, along with a chiropractor and the nonprofit organization, Twin Cities RISE!, which deals with job training.

As a part of that partnership, the bakery has taken on a couple of apprentices who live in the building, and it plans to bring on two more young people in the near future, he says.

“I’ve always thought of this as more than a little coffee shop,” he says. “This gives me more of that feel, that it’s part of something bigger.”   

However, the bakery is still getting settled into the space. It’s a bit like moving into a new home, “where you live out of boxes for awhile,” he says.

So far, the change has been good. He’s hearing from regulars that “It’s so big and so bright,” in comparison to the old space, but “It still looks like Butter.”  

Before, the bakery was too cramped, both in terms of seating and space for running the bakery and grill at the same time.

Now, people can opt for the more informal café area of the bakery or they can go for the dining space. “No one has to feel like they’re being pushed out,” he says.

The space, which started off as an empty shell, was designed specifically for Butter, with room for growth.

One custom touch that he hopes personalizes the space includes two murals that line the restroom walls.

The murals picture the countryside surrounding the creamery where the bakery gets its butter and the scene outside of Butter’s door. “It’s a way of connecting with the Butter community,” Swenson-Klatt says, adding, “We were always meant to be a neighborhood spot.”  

In the future, he hopes some sort of garden might spring up on the empty lot behind the building.

Source: Dan Swenson-Klatt, owner, Butter Bakery Café
Writer: Anna Pratt    

Gateway Food Initiative receives $10,000 matching grant

Earlier this month, the Gateway Food Coop received a $10,000 matching grant from the Food Coop Initiative (FCI), a national nonprofit organization that promotes the cooperative economy.

Gateway was one of 10 coops across the country to get the seed funding, according to Gateway information.

The coop, which began organizing last year, wants to bring a sustainable, natural foods coop to St. Paul’s diverse East Side.   

Elizabeth Butterfield, who co-chairs the coop’s steering committee, explains the way the grant works: “For every dollar we spend of the Seed Grant money, we are expected to spend a dollar of our own money.” The money will go toward community outreach and member-owner recruitment efforts, including hiring a part-time community organizer.

Additionally, FCI will provide expertise to the coop, “noting if there are techniques that can be repeated in other similar areas throughout the country,” she says.

This kind of relationship building is important for meeting its goals, according to Butterfield. For example, shortly after finding out about the FCI award, "We were approached by Mississippi Market to compete for a $14,000 gift,” which will be given out in October, she says. “Their members will vote to award the money to three out of five nonprofits that are competing for the funds.”

Separately, Phalen Ovenworks is hosting a wood-fired pizza party to benefit the coop on October 6.

The place also raises money for the coop through bread sales on Sunday nights.  

So far, the coop has 84 members, a number it hopes to grow through events this fall. But at this point, it’s too early to say where on the East Side the coop might be go. The coop has yet to do a thorough market study, Butterfield says.  
 
 
Source: Elizabeth Butterfield, organizer, Gateway Food Coop
Writer: Anna Pratt


 


'(re)locate: A Place to Call Home' exhibit documents diverse local community

Many neighborhoods throughout the Twin Cities have become increasingly diverse in recent years, yet the back-stories of different groups’ arrival so often are unknown.

The current show at the Third Place Gallery in Minneapolis, which is the studio and exhibit space of photographer Wing Young Houie, focuses on representatives of various immigrant communities, including some political refugees, whose stories vary greatly.  

Called (re)locate: A Place to Call Home, the show brings together images from Houie and another local photographer, Selma Fernandez. It'll be on view through Aug. 16.

The 22 images from both photographers are intermingled on the walls, as opposed to being separated, visually, Houie says. It includes a mix of color and black-and-white shots.

Adults and children are shown in their natural habits, such as home, school and work, in and around the Twin Cities.

One young boy is pictured up close wearing a bright red superhero outfit. Alongside that is a black-and-white print of a young boy holding a sign that states, “I want to be a doctor.”

In another picture, a couple wearing traditional dress stands out amid a festive-looking crowd at the 2002 Hmong new year celebration in St. Paul in 2002.  

In some ways, each of the subjects is in costume, he says.

Together, the poignant images pose questions such as “What is home? Do you ever leave home? What does relocate mean?” The answers are especially complicated for immigrants, Houie says.

It’s a familiar topic for Houie, who is the only child in his Chinese family to be born in U.S. Often he gets asked where he’s from, even though he’s a native Minnesotan.

Throughout his work, he tries to “normalize iconography,” showing everyday examples of the reality, which is a lot more colorful than is shown in the mainstream media, he says.

 
Source: Wing Young Houie
Writer: Anna Pratt

University Avenue corridor to be called 'Little Africa'

Too often, people pass by the businesses on Snelling Avenue, near University in St. Paul, without stopping.

As one way to change that, the African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS) group is leading an effort to brand the district that spans Snelling Avenue between University and Minnehaha avenues as “Little Africa.”

Soon, the Central Corridor light rail transit line will run through the area, but in the meantime, the construction has decreased foot traffic in the district and beyond.

Bruce Corrie, who is a business professor at Concordia University in Saint Paul, explains that the branding campaign comes out of the broader, nonprofit-driven World Cultural Heritage District. This emerged as a way to help businesses stay afloat during the light rail construction on University.

The idea is to make the area a destination for ethnic tourism. Here, “there’s a growing presence of African Americans,” he says, adding that it includes about 20 immigrant businesses.

Further, “African immigrant groups are very dynamic and entrepreneurial,” he says. “We want to capture that.”

It follows other similar branding efforts along different segments of University, including “Little Mekong” (see The Line story here) and the African American Cultural Corridor.

The districts would also relate to similar areas in Minneapolis and Brooklyn Park.  As it is, “There’s not a strong cultural infrastructure in Minnesota,” he says, adding that it’s an opportunity. “We’re trying to tap into the global market.”

While encouraging more people to come to the district, another goal is to “develop the cultural capacity,” he says.

Eventually signage will come to indicate the district visually.

“One challenge is to get the attention of policymakers,” to help bring more resources to the area, he says.

Recently the district rolled out a voucher program, offering $5 coupons to district shoppers. Also, the Snelling Café will host a free book exchange through its new Little Free Library, which it’s celebrating with a July 27 luncheon.  

Source: Dr. Bruce Corrie, Professor of Business in the College of Business and Organizational Leadership, Concordia University
Writer: Anna Pratt
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