ART

Northeast Minneapolis offers successful arts district example

A street in the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District. Photo from minneapolis.org.
A street in the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District. Photo from minneapolis.org.

With the addition of a new mural on University Avenue and Oxford’s arts center, the Powerhouse, located there – this semester Oxford Stories is embarking on a small solutions journalism project. Our reporters are starting a community conversation about the possibility of a continued arts emphasis in the University Avenue area.

Cassie Morrison
Oxford Stories
clmorris@go.olemiss.edu

One example of a large, successful arts district that could offer Oxford ideas is the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District with a board of directors that includes business owners, activists and artists.

Josh Blanc, who chairs the board, said their goal is to become a local, national, and international place where artists and people come to see what area artists create.

“We are trying to foster and create the environment, so artists can reach their full capacity and success,” he said.

Blanc has witnessed the arts district evolve from 30 or so artists to more than 800. The arts district is one of the largest in the country, offering events and programs throughout the year. Old warehouses containing artist studios, galleries and live performance spaces help define Northeast Minneapolis.

An image of an artist and their work on display during the Open District. Photo from northeastminneapolisartsdistrict.org.
An image of an artist and their work on display during the Open District. Photo from northeastminneapolisartsdistrict.org.

Artists open their galleries and show off their stuff at a variety of fairs and art crawls, including the legendary Art-A-Whirl, occurring annually on the third weekend in May. For an extensive directory of Northeast art galleries and events visit Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association.

The Northeast Minneapolis Arts District was officially designated an arts district in 2003 by the city of Minneapolis. NE-AD’s Board of Directors was established in 2014 with a mission to support artists, arts and culture by encouraging artistic inspiration and creativity, according to the arts district website.

The board also supports arts-related projects, while encouraging economic growth, tourism, artistic exchanges and community connectivity.

Other goals are to encourage dialogue about defining an evolving vision of the arts and district.

“There is always another story of an artist creating or building their ideas for others to enjoy and experience,” Blanc said.

Open District, a three-day annual event that gives visitors access to art studios and artists, enables visitors to acquire art directly from them.

The arts district also supports public forums covering topics like development, sustainability, and the obligations of the arts district staff.

“It is a place where we share a lot of knowledge and experiences to help others do better at their craft and art,” Blanc said.

Inside of Square Books, a bookstore in Oxford that provides a variety of literature and art. Photo by Cassie Morrison.
Inside of Square Books, a bookstore in Oxford that provides a variety of literature and art. Photo by Cassie Morrison.

The Mississippi Arts Commission, or MAC, also supports the arts through public funding. Larry Morrisey, deputy director of the MAC, said the most fulfilling part of the job is seeing how your work can impact an artist’s career or change a community.

“I have heard from some artists how important the validation from the state of Mississippi was to them,” he said.

A graphic illustration from the MAC website.

Malcolm White, executive director of the MAC, said, “We are a grants and service organization, and one of 56 state art agencies in the country.”

The Project Grant, one of the grants MAC offers, provides funding for different art projects, some of which include arts-based community development, arts education, and folk and traditional arts.

The MAC website, arts.ms.gov, lists awards ranging from $250 to $5,000 that enable “community-driven planning and the power of the arts to create stronger communities.”

Applying for these grants can be done through the MAC website.

“We are the only state-sponsored funder of the arts in Mississippi, and we represent the very best asset Mississippi has,” said White.

Even if an arts district is not in Oxford’s future, the MAC will continue to provide grants for a variety of art projects that positively impact the Oxford community.

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