There’s a lot of beer, boutiques and luxury apartments in Minneapolis’ ‘Arts District’ these days. How much longer will it have any artists?

Northrup King Building
MinnPost photo by Jessica Lee
Northrup King Building is home to studio and office space for more than 200 tenants.

Northrup King Building property manager Debbie Woodward first noticed the anxiety among artists when the building was being remodeled to add more rooms for people to rent.

More space in the building, some artists worried, would attract more people with money — putting at risk the look and feel of the DIY neighborhood in northeast Minneapolis that for years served as the only affordable option for artists in the area. “We’re done. It’s over — gentrification,” Woodward recalled tenants saying.

That was in 1998.

Flash forward two decades. Minneapolis is in the midst of a construction boom that has seen building permits exceed $1 billion this year alone, and concerns over Northeast’s changing landscape have become even more pervasive. Researchers, community leaders and even elected officials at City Hall are paying attention.

Young homeowners and renters, suburban empty nesters and visitors seeking craft beer and vintage shops are transforming the area. Now it’s not just cranes hovering over long-time residents — but increased costs. Between 2000 and 2015, the median home value in northeast Minneapolis — the areas of Logan Park, Sheridan, St. Anthony East and St. Anthony West — increased an average of 45 percent, while rents rose an average of 13 percent, numbers that outpaced the city’s as a whole, Census data show.

Percent change in key gentrification indicators, 2000–2015
Median home valueMedian rentMedian household incomeResidents w/ Bachelors degreesPOCI ResidentsRentersResidents in poverty
Minneapolis23.493.33-7.28102.223.315.02
Sheridan45.4518.26-17.617.814.998.59-0.68
Logan Park51.78-6.78.5214.725.42-6.330.04
St. Anthony West39.4915.4720.7822.021.59-0.63-12.6
St. Anthony East44.2226.77-27.59.8218.767.778.12
Source: CURA

The struggle for some to deal with Minneapolis’ rising rents and property taxes is not isolated to Northeast. But it’s an issue that especially affects the creative community. In a study of gentrification across Minneapolis, a team of University of Minnesota researchers found Northeast’s economic and demographic shifts since 2000 have created a unique market of winners and losers.

New developers are investing in the neighborhood, seeing the climate now as sufficiently desirable, resulting in higher property values, taxes and other living costs that are good for some businesses and homeowners — and bad for others, especially low- to middle-wage renters and workers. And some artists and residents are now wondering how much longer they can call the area home.

map of gentrified neighborhoods
Source: CURA
Researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban & Regional Affairs looked at a variety of economic data to determine which Twin Cities neighborhoods gentrified between 2000 and 2015. Three Northeast Minneapolis neighborhoods — Sheridan, Logan Park and St. Anthony West — gentrified during this period, while St. Anthony Park East did not.
“It’s a common, rolling theme — whether or not the artists are getting kicked out,” said Woodward, whose Northrup King Building is home to studio and office space for more than 200 tenants. “There’s clearly a lot of development pressure.”

The next cheapest place

Before the 1980s, Minneapolis’ art scene thrived in vacant industrial buildings just across the Mississippi river from Northeast, in the part of downtown now known as the North Loop. Attracted to area buildings’ lack of regulations and cheap rent, artists paid as much as $70, or as little as nothing, for space in the neighborhood.

But the city’s economic recovery in the ’80s brought new construction to the North Loop and more attention to the area. Rents soared.

So the artists flocked to the next affordable place: Northeast.

Northrup King Building property manager Debbie Woodward
MinnPost photo by Jessica Lee
Northrup King Building property manager Debbie Woodward: “It’s a common, rolling theme — whether or not the artists are getting kicked out.”
The newcomers mixed with the area’s existing residents — immigrants from Eastern Europe, who had once moved to the neighborhood because of nearby factory jobs — and built workspaces in the area’s deserted industrial buildings. The artists were joined by business owners who had come to Minnesota from around the globe — from Mexico and Laos and Somalia — for the same reason others picked the area: it was affordable. It was a demographic shift that would come to define the tight-knit neighborhood’s next chapter.

But not everyone found space in the shift. “When the artists came to Northeast, they certainly had to displace someone,” said Brittany Lewis, who did the study on gentrification by the University of Minnesota. “It’s this cyclical pushing and shuffling of low-income communities” to left-behind places.

More beer, more problems?

Even as Northeast’s popularity among artists for affordability grew, the industry remained relatively underground. It wasn’t until 1996 when a group of about a dozen artists came up with the idea of opening their studios to the public in an effort to sell a few high-end pieces for extra money. They called it “Art-A-Whirl,” and Northeast hasn’t been the same since.

As Art-a-Whirl gained popularity, attracting more spectators and artists, organizers shifted the annual event from quaint garage spaces to bigger gallery spaces. By then, the founders had also created what’s called the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association, which exists today as a nonprofit that organizes events with a board of directors and about 1,000 members.

In 2002, neighborhood and city leaders laid out a plan for dealing with an influx of high-end retail, new residents, more office space and luxury housing, documented it in what’s called the “Arts Action Plan.” In 2003, Minneapolis officials designated a portion of Northeast an official Arts District, a title that comes with certain construction and zoning rules that aim to preserve spaces for the creative community.

Then came the beer.

In 2011, Gov. Mark Dayton signed the “Surly Law,” which allowed breweries and taprooms to sell beer on site for the first time. The change soon initiated a shift in Northeast’s economic base; brewers found a home in the DIY culture and underdeveloped buildings that could house their machinery nicely.

Now, researchers say Northeast has the highest concentration of breweries — from Able Seedhouse + Brewery to Indeed to the recently opened HeadFlyer — in Minnesota. “It seemed overnight that we hit 12 breweries in northeast Minneapolis,” a business owner told Lewis for the University of Minnesota’s study on gentrification.

Over the course of months, the researcher collected stories from people who live or work in Northeast, all of whom talked about the neighborhood’s rising costs and concerns over affordability.

Lewis and co-researcher Ed Goetz, director of the U of M’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, compared those anecdotes with census and housing data and building permits to measure if, or to what extent, Northeast’s population and business changed since 2000. The evidence gave a resounding answer. “No one debunked this economic shift was happening,” Lewis said. “There were differing opinions on whether it is good or bad — or for whom.”

During the interviews, neighborhood residents pointed to Art-a-Whirl as the clearest example of the neighborhood’s shift, how the “commodification of rich artist culture” had come to define it. The annual spring event now includes more than 600 artists and attracts 30,000 people for what the researchers call the country’s biggest open-studio tour: a combination of bands, beer, art and shopping. “Now it’s more like Mardi Gras than any kind of real fine arts event,” one homeowner said in the study.

The transformation has been good for some. Nina Guertin, who makes and teaches ceramics in a home studio, says that Art-a-Whirl’s growth has allowed her to get new customers, and Louisa Podlich, who also runs a ceramics operation, said she has gained stronger name recognition with the event’s increased traffic.

The economic gains go beyond just anecdotal. The Minneapolis Creative Index, which measures the impact of art production and industry, has ranked the Twin Cities and surrounding area as the country’s sixth most creatively vital metro area — meaning creative jobs here play a more significant role in the region’s economy than other places. Northeast is at the core of that grade.

A battle of generations

Lewis, a scholar in urban housing and policy, said this phenomenon unfolding in Northeast extends nationwide: Artists move to an underdeveloped area, make it vibrant and attractive to outsiders and then ultimately can’t afford the new economy —“the success they made possible” — themselves.

In the study, some people said they were making plans to move or have already taken the step as new people move to the neighborhood because of the rising costs. “I’m going to be homeless in a minute if I don’t get out,” Lewis recalled an interviewee saying.

One homeowner put the current scene like this: “A lot of the art buildings are already gone. A lot of the professional artists are gone. … I moved my studio an hour and a half away to rural Wisconsin.”

The interviewees also identified tension between some who have lived or worked in the neighborhood for years — they call themselves “raw” artists who produce very few products annually at high prices — and newcomers who produce mass amounts at lower costs in shorter time. The evolution of digitized industries, including design, architecture and technology firms, is adding a new layer to the neighborhood’s changing landscape. Workers in those fields can often afford higher rents and living costs.

Older artists remember the struggle to make the Arts District what it is, and now some of them feel pushed out, Lewis said. Then, there are new people excited to be a part of the scene. “Generations move in, compared to the other generations, with a different vision. It needs be talked about,” said Josh Blanc, president of Northeast Minneapolis Arts District and one of Art-a-Whirl’s original founders.

He emphasized the importance of thoughtful, new development that considers input from the area’s existing artists. “We all have the same thought: Whenever developers come in, they don’t necessarily know the community extremely well.”

In the search for long-term solutions, Blanc and other community leaders are hoping to measure the extent of the growing pains — again — with a second “Arts Action Plan” to study the demographic shifts at a granular level. They’re currently trying to find the funding to make the assessment happen.

Meanwhile, Lewis hopes city officials use her findings, as well as information about other gentrified neighborhoods citywide, to dedicate more money towards people and programs that help people stay in their homes and workspaces. “We keep getting bogged down by the question of (whether gentrification is) good or bad,” she said. “You can’t just use the word. Gentrification is an end game. When it’s happened it’s too late.”

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/12/2018 - 12:46 pm.

    I’m not sure “Mardi Gras” is the appropriate term, but Art-A-Whirl has certainly grown and, at least to some degree, changed in the years since I moved here and joined NEMAA (the Northeast Minneapolis Artist Association). As an artist. I’ve NOT found Art-A-Whirl to be at all lucrative, but part of the reason for that is probably that the display space I can find for Art-A-Whirl each year has always been out on the fringe of the festival because I work from a home studio, and I can’t afford to live in Northeast, where, even 9 years ago when I arrived, home prices were 15% to 20% higher than they are here in the northwest corner of the city. That makes me a “visiting artist” for every Art-A-Whirl, and being a “visiting artist” means my choices of display space are both very limited and generally isolated from the areas that see the most pedestrian traffic.

    It’s not at all what I’d prefer, but beggars can’t be choosers, and as a perennial “visiting artist” I don’t have too many alternatives in terms of display space for the festival – whether it’s viewed as a Minneapolis Mardi Gras or a genuine fine arts event. For some artists, it’s a great venue and festival, and for many others, it’s at least worth the effort to spruce up their Northeast studio for visitors. Art is generally purchased with discretionary income, so there are multiple agendas that event organizers are trying to balance, a few of which are: attracting enough people to make the event viable; attracting enough people with enough discretionary income to make the event financially worthwhile for the artists; finding enough volunteers to keep the event going; and making the event attractive enough that local artists will want to participate. And, of course, there are other factors to be considered such as traffic, public safety, and so on.

    Meanwhile, at least some small businesses in the area are having a tough time simply because the increased interest in Northeast has put upward pressure on rents that are outside the formal artist’s community. If you OWN a building, that’s good news, but if you’re a tenant, it’s not. The Broadway building at Central Avenue North and Broadway, which contains few artist’s spaces, if it has any at all, but does contain several small businesses, was recently purchased by a foreign conglomerate, and while significant improvements are being planned for the building, a small business I patronize in the building is currently searching for other retail space because the new landlord plans, in addition to those improvements, to raise the rent 50%, a cost increase which is very, very difficult for most small retail establishments to absorb. At the moment, I don’t have to worry about being pushed out, since I wasn’t able to afford Northeast in the first place, but that’s not going to be the case for a lot of others, some of whom are long-term residents or businesses.

  2. Submitted by Terry McDanel on 09/12/2018 - 12:55 pm.

    “When it’s happened it’s too late.”

    We, especially liberals, want to control everything and keep a success a status quo. We can’t. I believe that diversity and mixed housing makes for a better community for everybody, but there are worse things than gentrification.

    The article left me wondering, what would West Broadway and some of the other high poverty neighborhoods look like if they were declared and received support for being “arts districts”.

  3. Submitted by Adam Miller on 09/12/2018 - 01:59 pm.

    Kind of strange to discuss brewing as a newcomer in a neighborhood that grew up around a brewery.

  4. Submitted by Richard Parker on 09/12/2018 - 03:06 pm.

    Good story, thank you. Two comments, though: I can’t read the neighborhood names on the map because they’re too small and not sharp. And I think it would have been good to get the perspective of Margo Ashmore, editor-publisher of the weekly Northeaster, who has covered the area for a long time.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 09/12/2018 - 06:18 pm.

    Well, seems, first folks complained about no progress and development, here in the city, all in the burbs, then after decades of stagnation and depreciating values we get progress and development in the city, and now they complain about gentrification? and too much development! From this perspective its better to have it than to not have it.

  6. Submitted by Max Hailperin on 09/12/2018 - 06:48 pm.

    You seem to have reduced Northeast from 13 neighborhoods to 4.

  7. Submitted by John Evans on 09/12/2018 - 08:18 pm.

    Saint Paul would love to have you. C’mon across the river and discover the quirky enclaves!

  8. Submitted by R. Hanson on 09/13/2018 - 09:20 am.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point in my lifetime even the Walker and MIA turn into craft breweries.

  9. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/14/2018 - 09:59 am.

    This would not be considered a problem in Detroit, or several other cities.

    They’d love to have this sort of problem.

Leave a Reply