Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Feeling Minnesota


Our adventures begin in Minneapolis, Minnesota, kindly hosted by the directors of Works Progress, the artist led public design studio of Colin Kloecker and Shanai Matteson. We fell in love with Colin and Shanai and the whole damn city of Minneapolis.

Photo: Zoe Prinds-Flash

First night in Minneapolis was Salon Saloon – a lively talk show format produced by Works Progress in an intimate space at the back of the Lakes Bryant bowling club. It’s a no-brainer format of live story telling with music and the performative – enjoyed by an intimate crowd of diverse age group of 20s 30s and 40s. Genuinely funny and local, each show is co-produced and lovingly MC-ed by the intelligent and comedic Andy Sturdevant.

This evening’s show was all about Oakland, bringing together a good-looking selection of local personalities talking about their relationship to Oakland and its famed friendly antagonism with the West Bank of San Francisco. It was a compelling show, revealing much that you wouldn’t ever find out about a city making your own way through it. Like discovering writer/editor Emily Saer Cook has a grandfather who lives in Oakland and has a Librarium! He is officially the only person we know who 1) uses the word Librarium and 2) actually has one. (Note to self: visit Oakland)

Photo: Zoe Prinds-Flash

Salon Saloon is approaching its fourth year, and Works Progress have just released a ‘best of’ CD, along with a successful kickstarter to raise additional funds for their myriad of other projects - all of which seem to be an excellent combination of good design, conceptual punch and actual community engagement. 

Works Progress have fashioned themselves a diverse passionate base, neither identifying themselves strictly with the art crowd not the community or non-profit sector, but well-respected from both sides. We tagged along with Shanai and Colin to a workshop with Kulture Klub, a young person’s hang out space at a centre downtown, which is the amalgam of 21 different youth services. The Kulture Klub is headed up by the dynamic Jeff, who is also part Madam, a queer artist run space in another part of town. At this workshop, Shanai and Colin were facilitating the beginning of a project which takes well known New Orleans' Artist, Candy Chang’s project “Things to do before I die…..” to the young peeps at Youth Link Up. (While in Chicago I also saw the below image below on West 18th St in the Pilsen neighbourhood) 

Photo: Rebecca Conroy

As Andrea Jenkins notes, despite the apparently progressive and liberal arts funding and abundance of community engagement initiatives in the state of Minnesota, the disparity between rich and poor along colour lines still ranks Minneapolis’ inequality as unusually high in comparison to other US cities/states. Andrea is a community artist and activist and works with the urban planning division of the city – she describes herself as poet, writer and multimedia visual and performance artist. We met Andrea on the sidewalk at the shop front exhibition that Works Progress opened on Friday, where she was also participating in the project. 

Photo: Tessa Zettel

The exhibition entitled A Mile in Our Shoes asked for people to submit a pair of shoes with a story about public transport. These shoes were then displayed in the store front - a shoe repair shop no less - within the building where Works Progress have been occupying a studio for the past few years.

Photo: Tessa Zettel

The gallery is aptly named the shoebox gallery and has been running for 10 years and is curated by local artist Sean Smuda.

Fittingly, this would also be their farewell show to the building, as they get ready to shift their operation closer to downtown. As of next week, Works Progress will operate from a live/work space in the North East of Minneapolis, a decidedly more arty area, with street signs proclaiming it as the arts precinct. 

Saturday brought us to North Minneapolis and “This is Disappearing” - a project after our own heart. This site-specific project was in a foreclosed house bought by the city, and scheduled for demo, and was occupied by several artists at the behest of artist-curator Lauren Herzak Bauman

Photo: Tessa Zettel

Over dinner afterwards with Lauren, Angela Sprunger (one of the participating artists) and the delightful Andy Sturdevant, we discussed many things - from artist led gentrification, to a curated list of tragic iconic films with which to reference our respective cities, as well as the design of cities and "social practice". We also talked about sport under the ruse of architecture and fiscal governance.

Photo: Tessa Zettel

Photo: Tessa Zettel

Our last night in Minneapolis brought us to the soft closing of Chicago artists' Joe Madrigal and Amber Ginsburg and their work FLO(WE) {U} R at the Soap FactoryThis is in the more arty section of town, and as the name indicates, this large and beautiful building was once a soap factory.  In close proximity to this precinct, are key institutes the Guthrie Theater and the Walker Art Center looming large on an urban scape of Minneapolis metropolis made for giants. These institutes are well known, and it’s weird to admit that I didn’t actually realise they were located in Minneapolis.

Our trip here is primarily about scoping out the idiosyncratic ways in which artists survive and the ways there economies are affected and being reinvented. How much consciousness and ingenuity is there in artist communities for surviving both within and without the economy? How do you define economy?

By chance, we discovered the 24/7 car service – a private (and very affordable) car service which is run much like a co-op with commercial intentions; it was started a few years back by a bunch of musicians, artists and bar service people who wanted to supplement their flexible incomes. Their fleet of cars is small, but they are sleek and unmarked, and operate with a limousine license which means that are not obligated to pick up everyone. With no advertising, instead their number gets passed on from friend to friend, and they seem to sustain enough business in this way. And as well as being prompt, our driver was both handsome and happy to regale us with the background to the car service.

It felt premature to leave Minneapolis, and the great people we met. Still more amazing makers and doers, and places we didn't get a chance to explore as time ran out. Stay tuned Minneapolis!