3 groups spread the joy of street art to their communities

Public art is thriving in communities everywhere, but maybe nowhere more so than in the Twin Cities in Minnesota.

the Growler magazine points out in a recent article that: “both artists and communities are taking note of opportunities to connect with a larger audience and public street art in the Twin Cities is thriving, while other promising initiatives are working to increase art accessibility in the region’s continually evolving arts ecosystem.”

 Street art is alive and well in the Twin Cities, thanks to three art organizations working to spread the joy of the form to the general public. (Photo by Isaiah Rustad)
Street art is alive and well in the Twin Cities, thanks to three art organizations working to spread the joy of the form to the general public. (Photo by Isaiah Rustad)

The growing tide of street art is primarily fueled by community-minded groups whose missions are quite similar: spread art appreciation to other community residents, many of whom may not have the means to visit an art museum, and seize the opportunity to beautify the very communities in which they live.

There are several art organizations doing just that in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

 Juxtaposition Arts (JXTA), a nonprofit youth art education program, has been making art accessible for local residents for over two decades.

Currently, the folks at JXTA have been surveying community members from North Minneapolis, asking “What are the things that make Northside ‘Northside,” and what do they look like to you?” It was noted that the approach to community involvement and incorporating the ideas of locals into works of art is much more successful than painting the most colorful graffiti mural.

It also doesn’t hurt that the murals created by JXTA reflect the lives of those who live there; people of all colors dominate the murals painted by JXTA. As noted by the organization’s executive director, the murals empower local residents, showing them “contributing member of our community.” Furthermore, “Seeing faces reflected back at them reminds people that folks live here who have hopes, dreams, aspirations, style, and flavor.”

To further empower African Americans, JXTA a $14 million capital campaign for a new, state-of-the-art building that will replace an older structure that has already been torn down.  In the meantime, the space is serving as a public art plaza and skatepark

Art education is also an integral component of JXTA’s work.

Participants in JXTA’s education classes and programs number around 500 a year, with 70–80 young adults (ages 14–22) employed as paid apprentices through the JXTALab apprenticeship program.

 Street art, such as this mural in Minneapolis, is being made possible by organizations that support bringing art to the people. (Photo by Isaiah Rustad)
Street art, such as this mural in Minneapolis, is being made possible by organizations that support bringing art to the people. (Photo by Isaiah Rustad)

Among the organization’s many classes is FreeWall, specifically focused on street art, which covers the genre’s history, culture, and current innovators. Connecting theory to practice, JXTA is bringing TATS CRU, a group of Bronx-based aerosol artists, into town in May to co-create a mural with their youth participants.

That’s definitely some heady stuff!

In Saint Paul, Springboard for the Arts utilized the community-supported agriculture model (where residents purchase locally grown food) and incorporated it in the art world. The concept behind community-supported art has nine artists’ work curated into 50 boxes through a panel process. Then, the boxes are sold for $300 each and collected by participants at a “pickup experience” where they can meet the artists.  

Although this model is no longer used in Saint Paul, it does live on in more than 70 other communities around the country who have adopted it to help spread artwork there.

Springboard for the Arts currently connects artists to the public through “Creative People Power,” an infrastructure that uses creativity- and people-centered development to build stronger communities. One program included within this framework is SpringBOX: farmer’s market–style events that facilitate the sale of artists’ work, provide professional development resources to artists, and connect artists and community members with the goal of sparking future projects.

Yet another local organization changing people’s minds and how they view art is the Minneapolis Art Lending Library. Started six years ago, the organization lends out art for free, directly challenging the long-held notion that art can only be assessed by the privileged that visit museums or galleries and/or can afford to purchase works of their own.

The Lending Library has registered more than 600 borrowers primarily from the Twin Cities metro area, plus a handful of patrons from Greater Minnesota and beyond. They’ve lent more than 1,160 pieces of art to date through quarterly lending sessions, each event further removing the hurdles that traditionally keep people from obtaining art and providing an avenue for art to play a role in borrowers’ everyday lives by “celebrating different perspectives, sparking dialogue, amplifying underrepresented voices, building communities, and inspiring creativity.” 

The drive to make art come alive for the residents of Minneapolis would surely make Bob Dylan proud!