In recent weeks, there’s been well-deserved fanfare around the opening of the $42 million Cowles Center for Dance and Performing Arts and the $14 million expansion of the Weisman Art Museum. These are important institutions and critical assets to the Twin Cities. But what’s often overlooked is the equal importance of smaller, everyday arts activities and organizations that make this region such a vibrant place to live.
Examples abound — the ArtsHub at Intermedia Arts, the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center, Pillsbury House, and All My Relations Art Gallery in South Minneapolis; Juxtaposition Arts and PCYC’s Capri Theater in North Minneapolis ; and the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent in St. Paul. The work of these and many, many other organizations — as well as the contributions of thousands of individual artists – make Minneapolis and St. Paul the envy of communities across the country. Even National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Rocco Landesman recently praised this region’s vital arts and culture.
This stunning vitality comes from our understanding of three truths: 1) The value of the arts goes beyond “arts for art sake.” The arts are important drivers of our economic prosperity, job creation, and sense of identity and community. 2) The entire arts ecosystem deserves our support — small to large, neighborhood-level to regional. 3) Above all, art is made by artists. We recognize the need to support, value and retain artists in this region.
Our recognition of these truths recently helped the Twin Cities win two large national placemaking grants: an Our Town award from the NEA and an ArtPlace award for Irrigate, a partnership of Springboard for the Arts, Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and the City of St. Paul. Both of these big visionary efforts will help keep the arts at the forefront of local development.
The $200,000 Our Town grant will help the Hennepin Theater Trust re-invent Hennepin Avenue as an arts-inspired cultural corridor stretching from the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to the Mississippi Riverfront.
The $750,000 ArtPlace award will train and mobilize artists to make an immediate positive physical, economic, and social impact along the new Central Corridor Light Rail Transit in St. Paul. Artists who live, work, or have a personal investment in the neighborhoods along the Central Corridor are invited to participate in any one of six creative placemaking workshops being held in the next several weeks.
Because artists can be such important leaders in placemaking, Irrigate will also develop a permanent infrastructure to retain and attract artists, and encourage them to play long-term roles along the corridor.
Intermedia Arts has long recognized the community leadership potential of artists. Nearly 10 years ago, it established the Creative Community Leadership Institute, which has trained and supported 110 local artists and community developers working at the intersection of the arts and community. Leaders and partnerships forged by this institute are doing tremendous work throughout the region — including leaders at many of the smaller organizations noted above.
As part of its on-going commitment and leadership to this work, on Dec. 3 Intermedia Arts will be hosting Making Maps and Carrying Fire: A Gathering of Leaders Addressing the Question “How Can we Advance Creative Placemaking In Our Communities,” a cross-sector gathering of leaders dedicated to the power of the arts to build community, create place and mobilize action.
It’s this region’s magical mix of artist-leaders; arts organizations of every size and in every neighborhood; large, stellar anchor organizations; and arts placemaking efforts like Hennepin Ave. and Central Corridor that make the Twin Cities a place I am proud to call home.
Erik Takeshita is deputy director of the Twin Cities Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC).