Twin Cities Daily Planet: Muralists invited to add color to Nicollet Avenue

TWIN CITIES DAILY PLANET

This mural at Fischer Grocery was completed last fall as a demonstration for this year’s Walldogs on Nicollet project. It was destroyed in a fire Feb. 22, 2008. (Photo courtesy the Kingfield and Lyndale Neighborhood Associations)

“From what we’ve been able to find, this is going to be one of the largest creations of public art in Minneapolis’s history,” said Mark Hinds, Executive Director of the Lyndale Neighborhood Association, “It’s a different kind of public art—the use of volunteers, the style of it. We think the quality is top-notch.”

Walldogs on Nicollet is an innovative effort by the Kingfield and Lyndale Neighborhood Associations to call on local and national artists to paint six to ten murals along Nicollet Avenue, a major commercial corridor the two neighborhoods share. The murals will be painted during a three-day span in late July on buildings in a 16-block stretch from Lake Street to 46th Street.

“Walldogs” is a historical nickname for painters who traveled from town-to-town making signs and murals. Their contemporary namesake is a loose affiliation of public mural enthusiasts from around the country keeping the tradition of mural-making alive. Though they live in disparate locales, they organize “meets” to paint murals, typically in small, rural towns. Minneapolis will be the first large, urban Walldogs meet and the first with such an emphasis on involving local artists.

Hines says investments of this kind in public art are essential to the vibrancy of the neighborhoods. “If you’re a business or property owner… this is adding a lot of value to your building.” Property owners contribute a couple of hundred dollars to participate. This helps offset some of the cost of paying the lead artist for designs. But as Hines says, “If you look at the [Fischer Grocery mural] on 34th, we put literally thousands of dollars of time and effort into improving that building. It’s a pretty good deal.”

Members from the Kingfield and Lyndale communities have been involved in every aspect of the project. “We don’t need much from the city,” Hines said. “In general, this isn’t the kind of thing that needs a lot of city involvement, so there hasn’t been.” Hinds says the project sprung from the minds of a few creative community members and has been propelled by the two neighborhood associations. “A lot of neighborhoods are really moving toward working together in partnership,” he said. “I think it would be hard for a lot of other big cities to do [a project like Walldogs on Nicollet] because Minneapolis is unique in that it’s got a lot of strong neighborhood associations.”

Flagship demonstration lost to fire

To raise money for this summer’s Walldogs event, Kingfield’s neighborhood association is dedicating their share of the proceeds from their 3rd Annual Community Art Show and Silent Auction on March 22 to the mural project. Titled “Living Art,” the event has drawn 113 artists, who have each submitted up to two pieces of their work. Tickets are $10. When a piece sells in the silent auction, the artist gets half and the other half goes toward a fund for art programming in Kingfield. To accommodate the event’s increased size, Rau+Barber photography (4244 Nicollet Ave. S.) offered its studio space. Last year’s host, the coffee shop Anodyne (4301 Nicollet Ave. S.), is continuing its involvement, displaying a 20-artist pre-show teaser that will run until March 22.

The promotional art for the auction features the image of the Fischer Grocery mural, the striking flagship piece for this summer’s Walldogs meet. The mural was designed by local Walldogs artist Carole Bersin and was completed last fall as a demonstration of what the Walldogs plan to do, only on a larger, multi-mural scale, this summer. The mural, which represented over 1,000 volunteer hours, including planning and painting time, was destroyed on Feb. 21st, when fire broke out inside the mural’s building, burned for hours and eventually leveled the entire lot. Since then, Hinds has seen a “strong outpouring” of support from those saddened by the loss of the mural. “I think it’s really going to fire them up to come out and help paint and work this summer,” he says.

Hinds worries, however, that for those who did not get a chance to see the Fischer Grocery mural, including potential sponsors and volunteers, it will be more difficult to explain how delightful these murals look when they are complete. The Fischer Grocery mural worked, Hines says, because “we could tell people, ‘No, we’re talking about something different. Go to the corner of 34th and Nicollet; look at what we did,’ and people saw it and they were just amazed at how good it was and how beautiful it turned out.”

“What we lost,” reports Hinds, “was our best selling feature.”

After Walldogs, more public art

Hinds hopes Walldogs on Nicollet encourages other neighborhoods in the Twin Cities to undertake similarly ambitious public art projects. After this summer’s Walldogs meet concludes, he says, the two neighborhood associations hope to put together a resource book, so that any who follow will have a leg up. “[They’ll know] where we went for funding… hurdles we overcame… what worked and what didn’t,” he says. One rough patch they hope to smooth for mural projects to come is, what Hines calls, the City’s “fairly restrictive and outdated” sign ordinances. The two neighborhood associations have been negotiating with the city’s zoning office, with help from Ward 8 Council Member Elizabeth Glidden’s office, in order to push back restrictions that would severely constrain the murals’ designs and sizes. Hines says Glidden has helped “make sure that the city sees that what we’re doing is art.”

Sites and artists for this summer’s meet will be revealed at the beginning of April and mural designs will be unveiled at a mural preview party on May 3rd. The two neighborhood associations are currently looking for volunteers to help paint murals, plan for the meet this summer, and help at events.

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