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Stuart Pimsler commemorates the Minneapolis tornado in 'Temporary Shelter'

Stuart Pimsler
Stuart Pimsler

After the winds died down, Stuart Pimsler and his son set out on their bikes to see how North Minneapolis looked after the storm. It was May 22, 2011, and residents were only beginning to understand how dramatically their neighborhoods had been remade by the tornado that had just ripped through.

“It was just shocking, the devastation. I was really impacted by what I saw that day, and in the weeks that followed I thought about ways to give something to the community, given how much was taken away,” said Pimsler, who lives a few blocks away from the “exclusion zone,” a two-mile swath of ripped-up homes, splintered trees and uprooted lives.

Pimsler is the artistic co-director of Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater, and he naturally thought about using art as a way to commemorate the tornado. But dance wasn’t the right medium.

“Dance is such a fleeting art form. After really witnessing the devastation, and understanding how long it was going to be with this community, I wanted to do something more lasting,” he said. So the dancer became a journalist, and interviewed nearly 100 people affected by the tornado. Two dozen of their stories are collected in his new book, “Temporary Shelter: Tales From the Minneapolis Tornado.”

These anecdotes, accompanied by amazing photos by Pimsler house photographer Virtucio, convey the terror of being in the eye of the storm, as well as the frustration of becoming a target for looters, gawkers and naysayers who didn’t think North Minneapolis was worth rebuilding — even as Pimsler’s interviews reveal the many reasons it is.

Pimsler talked with parents whose children suffer from PTSD from the storm. He spent time with cake artist and blogger Marie Porter, who explains the overwhelming sensory impact the storm had on her and her husband, who both have autism. He talked with Minneapolis’ Sumner branch librarian Jerry Blue about the day after the storm, when people came in for Internet access, information and companionship. He interviewed Ian Alexander, who was compelled to run for office when the city failed to provide the help North Minneapolis needed — a sore subject with many people.

“A billion dollars for a new football stadium, fine, but not a dime of the $480 million that they did in the bonding package went to North Minneapolis,” said Eric Reichwald, who was working on a documentary about a hurricane in Mexico when his own home was hit by the tornado.

There are many stories about injustice, looters, shady contractors, insurance companies that  failed to pay. But every story is a survivor’s tale about facing a new day and doing what needed to be done. Even as dozens of damaged homes were being demolished, Jeff Skrenes decided to buy into the neighborhood, and is looking ahead to the future, when he imagines an area lifted up by new bike trails and transit. Brent Bunn appreciates the stronger neighborhood bonds the storm left behind. “It’s so underrated, just to know who you live near,” he said. “Now I know them a little more. It was a community builder in an odd way, on a very micro level.”

“That’s what I wanted to communicate, that these people are carrying on, under difficult, sad circumstances. Most of them are very humble people, and they haven’t been given much help,” said Pimsler. “They aren’t the kind of people who would end up in a book. But they lived through this incredible experience and that makes their stories worth telling.”

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