A few buckets of paint and wooden shipping pallets have transformed a small space on Hennepin Avenue, adding to the myriad of temporary parks popping up around Minneapolis as a means of city beautification.
The Hennepin Theatre Trust conceived the idea of “parklots,” which convert areas of lackluster concrete into inviting gathering space with greenery, seating and interactive public art. The first parklot is adjacent to the Orpheum Theatre and nestled between 9th and 10th Streets.
“We can have the downtown we want, we just have to go out and get it,” said Tom Hoch, president and CEO of the Hennepin Theatre Trust. Hoch said the Trust intends to build five parklots across the city in the coming year.
Made Here, downtown’s new walking gallery of window art showcases, launches alongside the Parklot on Friday, July 11, from 7 p.m. to midnight. The trust will unveil both projects during its Summer in the City celebration, which includes food, music, comedy and free walking tours of the public art displays.
The Made Here initiative is also part of a larger effort by the trust, called the “Hennepin Cultural District,” which aims to create a two-mile cultural corridor between Walker’s Sculpture Garden and the Mississippi River.
A few years ago, the organization asked 300 people about their perceptions of Hennepin Avenue. Those surveyed generally agreed that the street provided an uneven experience — a mishmash of crowd-drawing theatrical entertainment and vacant storefronts. So the trust broadened its mission from the stage to the community, because residents said they wanted more and “they held us responsible for it,” Hoch said.
A $200,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts funded the project’s planning stages, while construction costs are covered solely by sponsorships and donations. Bank of America and Andersen Windows are the presenting sponsors for the Parklot and the Made Here initiative, respectively.
Nearly 40 displays were installed in the last three weeks, decorating empty spaces with local Minnesotans’ artwork along a 15-block stretch. The goal is to generate more foot-traffic and change people’s perceptions of Hennepin, said Joan Vorderbruggen, local artist and the trust’s Cultural District arts coordinator.
The result will likely be mutually beneficial to the community, artists and shopkeepers, she said, as it will encourage residents to rent out vacant buildings, expose more people to the artists’ work, and deter vandalism.
“When you provide people with something that looks nice rather than a void, they tend to respect it,” Vorderbruggen said.
Two weeks ago, the former National Camera Exchange building at 930 Hennepin Av. had dark, empty windows. Now, the structure is brought to life with photography in each of the second-floor window panes.
Other displays range from wooden handicrafts to “light drawings,” with a group of artists as eclectic as their work. Some have never had a public exhibit before, said Vorderbruggen, while others are seasoned professionals.
George Wurtzel, a blind woodworker, has already received nearly $10,000 worth of business because a passerby saw his furniture in one of the Made Here windows and called to order his own set.
Deciding which artists are chosen for exhibits and where to put them is “like a Jenga puzzle,” Vorderbruggen said. But since the trust’s funding isn’t hinged on the sale of the artwork, it affords them more freedom to play around.
The trust considers the Parklot and the Made Here initiative just a preliminary stage in determining what works best to revitalize the area, said communications director Karen Nelson.
“We’re just chipping away at the first piece we can,” she said. “Success breeds success.”