Dudley Voigt is a relentless optimist, but she has plenty of reasons to revel in the now.
This weekend, she will celebrate the 10th year of Flow, the North Side Minneapolis arts crawl that she founded and directs. And she recently found out that a quarter-million-dollar grant is coming the way of her employer, the West Broadway Coalition. That’s partly the result of efforts by Voigt and other boosters to brighten the beleaguered neighborhood, but also a credit to the diverse mix of people who call the area home, and to the organic way that art contributes to commerce here.
“The artists here are our most nimble entrepreneurs, and their art is a bellwether for other good things that follow,” Voigt said. “Flow is a mirror reflecting what’s already happening here. Sometimes it just needs to be reframed.”
Of all parts of the metro area, north Minneapolis gets the worst rap. Over the past decade, the area has been ravaged by a devastating tornado, above-average rates of violent crime and one of the highest foreclosure rates in town.
But in that same time, the main artery of W. Broadway has witnessed an artistic and culinary renaissance. There’s a parking-lot farmers market, a gas station covered with a color explosion of stylized, painted-on boom boxes, artwork by neighborhood artists hanging in new cafes, and giant photos of area denizens wrapped around the building that houses the coalition.
Down the block, the Capri Theater has been rehabbed, and the arts center Juxtaposition has grown from one building to three. ArtPlace America, the national nonprofit that just bestowed the $250,000 grant, has taken note, making the North Side one of just two Twin Cities areas to receive its funding this year.
Flow suggests three different, equally applicable connotations, Voight said: Visitors and residents creating a natural flow down the avenue, the term “flow” as it defines hip-hop’s improvisational stream, and the full-immersion, mental “state of flow” that athletes experience when they get in the zone.
State of flow
“It gets everybody coming together,” said Kevin Davis, who runs the deli at K’s Grocery. “It brings some much needed sunshine.”
Photographer and KFAI radio host Bill Cottman, who moved to the neighborhood with his wife, Beverly, several years ago, munched on a bag of Earl’s popcorn at K’s next to a wall featuring some of his photographs from a trip to West Africa. Flow doesn’t bring anything new to the neighborhood, he said; it simply brings people out to see what’s already there.
“It brings new eyes that might not normally come,” he said. “The 55411 ZIP code is seen by outsiders as being asset-free. I approach that from 180 degrees and say, come look at our little vignettes of the assets we know are here.”
One new feature of Flow this year is a four-course Friday night meal at the recently launched Breaking Bread restaurant — which serves specials like a previously unheard-of warm escarole salad with grilled oranges and feta cheese — produced by the locavore outfit Dinner on the Farm. Another is a pop-up clothing boutique and fashion show staged by the Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON).
The work of more than three dozen visual artists will be displayed on the walls of businesses and studios along W. Broadway as well as Homewood Studios and three other locales along nearby Plymouth Avenue N. Community radio station KMOJ, longtime voice of the North Side, will feature live acts from noon to 7 p.m. Saturday on its stage at North High Field, including Farrington Llewellyn and ShaVunda Horsley, who perform radical hip-hop under the moniker Khem Clan.
“Our work is about challenging the two-dimensional images of blackness that get perpetuated by dominant culture,” Llewellyn said.
Getting to know neighbors
Lorna Pettis, a KMOJ gospel-show host who also lives on the North Side and serves as Flow coordinator for the black radio station, points out that Flow has come to represent the growing cultural diversity of a neighborhood once known for being predominantly African-American. It’s now home to Asian, Latino and North African communities, as well.
“People can live on the same block nowadays and not know each other,” she said. “Sometimes we don’t branch out and here’s three days where everyone can come out in one location, a peaceful environment, and learn something new or make a new friend.”
Lifelong North Sider Charles Caldwell, whose gallery will be open Friday night and Saturday afternoon, painted what is perhaps the best-known artwork in the neighborhood, a giant mural on the 4th Street Saloon that serves as a welcoming beacon to the neighborhood, facing downtown. He’s now busy with a new mural along the blank side of a building owned by the American Legion, featuring a father and infant son — based on his own son and grandson — as the centerpiece.
“The theme is metamorphosis. There’ll be caterpillars turning into butterflies, and flags representing all the people who live here now,” he said. “North Minneapolis is geographically segregated, but we all own it.”