In a week filled with grief and rage at the death of yet another black man at the hands of police, several nonprofits and organizations that serve the community were damaged or destroyed.
On Thursday, May 28, Springboard for the Arts’ new space on University Ave. in St. Paul suffered fire and property damage as peaceful protests gave way to looting and rioting. On Friday morning, Springboard tweeted, “Our staff are safe, our building is standing. We are cleaning now. Please help our neighbors at the clean-up organized by Hamline Midway Coalition, and keep demanding #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd.”
Ananya Dance Theatre’s Shawngram Institute for Performance & Social Justice, also on University Avenue, had property damage. In an email sent Monday morning, Managing Director Gary Peterson wrote, “Responding to rumors of likely trouble on May 27, a small army of volunteers arrived … and helped us remove all valuable items. That night, as continuing protests turned violent, our security cameras captured the image of a shattered, floor-to-ceiling glass window … Somewhat magically, no one entered through the broken window.”
Several buildings nearby were set on fire that night. The next day, more volunteers arrived “to clean-up, secure, and muralize our space for whatever the weekend of protests might bring,” Peterson wrote. Through Sunday, June 7, company dancer Kealoha Ferreira is leading a daily 20-minute meditation class at 7 a.m. on Facebook.
Vine Arts Center/The Ivy in Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood, home to Frank Theatre’s studio, several artists’ studios and a gallery, was damaged Thursday night when its roof caught fire and sprinklers went off inside. It’s believed the blaze was started by debris from the Hexagon Bar nearby, which was destroyed by fire.
Juxtaposition Arts, the teen-staffed art and design center in north Minneapolis, reported Saturday on Facebook that “JXTA has not burned down. We did sustain minor damages last night, as the protests over George Floyd’s death were co-opted by violent individuals inciting riots and looting. We spent today admiring the efforts of our community members in cleanup, donations and aid.”
The Hook and Ladder Theater & Lounge, located just south of the Minneapolis Police Third Precinct in Longfellow, was damaged by graffiti and fire sprinklers. The former Patrick’s Cabaret, the Hook is also home to Jawaahir Dance Company. Booker Jackson Buck told the Star Tribune that “people broke in, probably looted and vandalized.” The building still stands, but “we don’t know if it will survive until a later date.” Its survival already threatened by COVID-19, the Hook had planned to launch a series of “Hookstreams” – live streaming concert fundraisers – this coming Friday, June 5.
Migizi Communications, also near the Third Precinct, was destroyed by fire on Wednesday night, May 27. A 40-year-old nonprofit that offers American Indian students educational programs, media arts training, musical arts and green energy training, Migizi had moved into its new space last September. In March, COVID closed the building.
Hours before the fire began, the Migizi Legacy Radio Archive was moved elsewhere to safety. (Earlier reports said the archive, which includes decades of radio broadcasts and interviews with prominent Native Americans, had been lost.) Executive Director Kelly Drummer told Indian Country Today that what remains of the building is “just a shell.”
After the fire, Rosy Simas, founding director of Rosy Simas Danse, wrote on Facebook, “MIGIZI Communications is gone. My family and many others built this Native organization that has served the Native community for over 40 years … Yes, it is just a building. But to the Native community this is territory, a home we still had here. Our lands stolen. We built this place for all people and many communities were loved, educated and thrived at MIGIZI. I’m heartbroken. My sister has worked there for about 40 years. My mother is a founder. I worked there on and off for 13 years.”
Since George Floyd’s death, arts organizations across the Twin Cities have issued statements of solidarity and support. Penumbra’s Sarah Bellamy wrote, “Justice doesn’t come from one person pushing against a system, or one group making noise. It comes from the mighty confluence of many streams all rushing forward to say, enough. No more. Not in our names. Not on our watch. It seems that moment has arrived for Minnesota and the United States of America.”
SteppingStone Theatre for Youth shared ideas and resources for supporting children. Theater Latté Da’s Peter Rothstein wrote, “Tonight was to be the opening night of the world premiere of our musical adaptation of ‘Twelve Angry Men.’ It is a drama about the racial prejudices that plague this country, about toxic masculinity, and about the American judicial system that favors bias over justice … As we navigate the deep anger and profound pain over the killing of George Floyd, I am more convinced than ever that the arts are a vital force towards a more compassionate world.”
From the Playwrights’ Center: “We stand united with our communities of color and commit to supporting and uplifting voices of color … We call on white people within our community to self-examine and to acknowledge racism and white supremacy in all their implicit and explicit forms – and to make intentional change.” The Guthrie’s rooftop LED signs now say “George Floyd” and scroll James Baldwin’s words “Nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
Checking in with Sheila Smith
Minnesota Citizens for the Arts issued its statement on Monday afternoon. In part: “Minnesota Citizens for the Arts is angered, appalled and outraged, like all of you, at the murder of George Floyd. We call for justice to be served for all those responsible. We also call for immediate engagement of all police to become catalysts of reform instead of participants in a culture of violence towards people of color.
“We are also saddened at the damage to small businesses and community-based arts organizations and nonprofits which are the livelihoods of and provide services to so many across Minneapolis and Saint Paul. We are particularly heartbroken by the destruction of Migizi Communications, a native led, youth serving organization which was burned to the ground near the Third Precinct police station, and we urge our members to help them rebuild by donating.”
On Monday morning, we spoke with Sheila Smith, MCA’s executive director, about the week’s events and MCA’s mission.
“The damage is a spectrum,” Smith said. “The worst one was Migizi. It’s just really terrible. The damage at Springboard sounds pretty bad – the sprinkler system was on – but they are saying they’re resilient and justice is a more important issue right now than what’s happening with buildings. You hear that as a pretty common refrain.
“We don’t know everything that has happened, and we don’t know everything that will happen. What we have now is a snapshot in time. I think it’s important to ask, ‘How can the arts bring people together to express their feelings and to heal?’ One of the first things that happened was the mural of George Floyd near the spot where he died. And now that has become a sacred site in the city …
“Our mission is to ensure access to the arts for all Minnesotans. We will still be working on our mission, no matter what’s happening in the world. We’re going to need to protect arts funding when the legislature reconvenes. We have so many arts organizations that were vulnerable because of COVID closings, and now we have some of them suffering physical damage. It’s just injury on injury to our vibrant arts community. Like every other part of the economy, they’re hurting, but this feels like they’re hurting way more.
“The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits report says the nonprofit arts organizations have been the most deeply affected by COVID. This all happening on top of that is hard to bear. We’re all going to have to work together to rebuild those communities and the arts organizations that serve them.”