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Essay: Is Minneapolis America's Next Powder Keg for Art?| #50StatesofArt

Seitu Jones, CREATE: Community Meal, September 2014. Photo documentation by Andy King, courtesy of Public Art St. Paul. 

As part of 50 States of Art, The Creators Project is inviting artists to contribute first-person accounts of what it is like to live and create in their communities. Christina Schmid is a writer, scholar, and sometimes curator based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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“I miss old Minneapolis,” says printmaker extraordinaire Jenny Schmid. “There was only one thing going on each night.” New Minneapolis does not offer such dearth of choices: a typical night out, during a December snowstorm, started with a gallery conversation on universal capitalism, followed by a pit stop at Midway Contemporary Art‘s monster drawing rally, before hitting the opening of a juried group show at Rosalux, the oldest artist collective in town. Then, one white-knuckled drive through snowdrifts later, down Hennepin Avenue where Made Here turns vacant storefront windows into an urban walking gallery, the night ends with a sold-out performance of Bessie-award winning choreographer Karen Sherman’s Soft Goods at the Walker Art Center.

Caroline Kent, _Further and Farther Than One Expects_. 6 x 9′. Acrylic on Unstretched Canvas. 2015. Photo by Rik Sferra.

As a writer whose work unfolds in conversation with visual art, I find a rich palette of cultural offerings in Minneapolis. Of course, occasionally it seems like everyone knows everyone else, and has known them forever. At times, a mid-size city may seem too small for big ideas. But then you meet artists whose work shakes your world, who take risks and can afford to take them in a place where cost of living is low and grant opportunities abound: Marcus Young’s don’t you feel it too?, a seasonal public dance practice, now in its seventh year; Caroline Kent‘s Joyful into the Dark, a body of abstract paintings that pay mysterious tribute to Afrofuturism; Pao Houa Her‘s photographs detailing Hmong life in Minnesota; or Chris Larson’s temporal sculptures that burn, turn, and rage (most recently in Land Speed Record). What brings these artists to Minneapolis and, perhaps more importantly, what makes them stay? The high density of art programs at local colleges and universities reliably brings new talent to town. State support for the arts, a robust non-profit sector, and opportunities for emerging artists (courtesy of the Jerome Foundation) keeps them here once school is out.

Chris Larson, still from _Land Speed Record_. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

What the creative ecosystem in the Twin Cities mostly lacks is a viable commercial gallery scene, a situation that encourages certain kinds of work and disadvantages others. Public art and socially engaged practices thrive here: a number of organizations (Forecast Public Art, Juxtaposition Arts, Public Art St. Paul, and Intermedia Arts, Pillsbury House—the list could go on) support and promote work that aims to make art accessible, viable, and sustainable. Artists who live and work in their neighborhoods turn parts of the city into living art projects: in 2014, Seitu Jones built a mile-long table to feed his community; 2016 saw the opening of Water Bar, a bar that serves only tap water and functions as a space for art, ecology, and alternative knowledge production. Sometimes, I confess, it can feel like a challenge to keep up with all the artist-run and Kickstarter-funded spaces and projects around town.

This bustling, gritty creative grassroots scene sometimes feels disconnected from the cool professionalism of the Walker Art Center, the regional behemoth of contemporary art. Although barely a local gets to show there—an issue of some contention in the resident art community—the exhibitions at WAC raise the bar and spark sustained critical conversation. My writing is part of these conversations that unfold in the wake of visual art, made here and elsewhere. And while it’s great to represent Minnesota’s art scene elsewhere, I value the dialogues that unfold right here, right now, online, in person, and in print.

Pao Houa Her, Untitled (My Mother’s Flowers). 2016. Photo courtesy of Bockley Gallery.

To learn more about Christina Schmid, click here.

All year, we’re highlighting 50 States of Art projects around the United States, starting with Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Utah, and Florida. To learn more, click here


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