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What do artists and developers have in common?

The Blossoms of Hope bus shelter in North Minneapolis. Image provided by Minnesota Public Radio.

How can we get real estate developers, city officials, planners, architects, and artists to all come together in the same room?

This is an idea Colleen Carey has been pondering for years. Carey organizes a networking / think-tank group called GeoEcoLab to bring together various stakeholders in the development industry to work towards community redevelopment goals.

Centered by her vision of creating great places to live work and play, Carey invites local leaders to give participants a different perspective on development, specifically incorporating the six following elements into site design and urban planning: art & artists, nature & open space, local food and urban agriculture, active living, sustainability, and collaboration and innovation.

Arts have long been an anchor of cultural diversity in the Twin Cities. From visual arts to performing arts to art in public spaces, the Twin Cities is a leader in the arts nationwide. But how can art become more pervasive in the lives of everyday citizens? How can art coexist with private development, creating areas of interest and attraction in everyday communities?

Carey invited several guest speakers to share their thoughts on this topic including Karl Reichart of Capri Theater, Mary Altman with the City of Minneapolis, and Michael Robbins and Bonnie Morris of Illusion Theater.

A strong theme was apparent throughout: art impacts our daily lives. Whether we are posing for pictures by the Spoonbridge & Cherry or the Mary Tyler Moore statue with out-of-town guests, waiting for transit at an artist-designed shelter, attending a theatre production, or discussing controversial issues that surfaced as the result of art, art shapes culture and has the ability to influence citizens and communities for positive change.

Karl Reichart has worked with the Capri Theater to revitalize North Minneapolis, offering everything from

The Capri Theater in North Minneapolis

professional productions and to an “open mic nite” that brings out local youth to share their original poetic rap songs. A children’s theater camp buses North Minneapolis kids free of charge to the Capri to develop talents they never imagined they had. The Capri Theater was one of many performing arts spaces in North Minneapolis at one time and now is the only restored theatre in the neighborhood, serving an important role in the community, providing a source of hope and pride.

The City of Minneapolis is so supportive of the arts that it is has its own Public Arts Administrator. Each year, Mary Altman oversees the commissioning of key public works of art. In 2011, she worked with artist Marjorie Pitz on the Blossoms of Hope vase and bouquet style bus shelter at the corner of Broadway and Penn in North Minneapolis. Ms. Altman emphasizes that citizens need to raise their voices about public art, contacting their city council members in support of art projects that enhance the community. Public art plays a critical role in establishing a sense of place for residents and she points to examples of the city’s most famous sculptures, the Spoonbridge and Cherry, and Mary Tyler Moore, that tell passerby’s “You are here in Minneapolis.”

The little theatre that could, the Illusion Theatre, has transformed culture, bringing to light important social issues and catalyzing progressive change. Michael Robbins and Bonnie Morris recount the many ways that Illusion has broken through cultural stereotypes and opened up a new platform for communication on difficult topics like child sexual abuse. Their 1980’s hit Amazing Grace informed citizens about the reality of HIV/AIDs and resulted in policy changes at Minneapolis Public Schools to end discrimination of LGBT individuals. In 1997,

Bill Clinton's public apology to Tuskegee survivors.

President Bill Clinton made a public apology to the survivors of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment after Illusion’s play on the subject raised national awareness of the unethical study conducted on 399 black men from 1932-1972.

While it’s easy to recognize the importance of art, how to bring art into private and public development is a greater challenge. Working to merge the quantifiable, organized business of real estate development with the sometimes messy, chaotic, and magical world of art is no easy task. Conversations like these are the start. Now it’s up to public officials, private developers, and everyone in between to support and collaborate with artists, expanding the scope of art’s reach.

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