The art wasn’t burned, but several arts organizations, including three run by people of color, are recovering from looting and vandalism following the death of George Floyd in police custody.
The Hmong Cultural Center in St. Paul, Juxtaposition Arts in north Minneapolis and the Somali Museum of Minnesota in Minneapolis are among more than 360 Twin Cities businesses that were ransacked or damaged.
At Juxtaposition Arts, aka JXTA, a community watch guarded its VALT Space and Artist Co-op at 1108 W. Broadway the night of May 28 until 2:30 a.m. After warding off unwelcome visitors, they retired for the night. According to security camera footage, a dozen young people broke into the space about 30 minutes later.
JXTA’s chief cultural producer, Roger Cummings, estimates the damage to be less than $10,000, including broken windows and the theft of three desktop and two laptop computers.
“They didn’t take any art,” he said. “It was probably worth more than those computers.”
Three or four looters also tried to damage JXTA’s gallery and shop at 2007 Emerson Av. N., but North Side organizer Roxxanne O’Brien stopped them from throwing a brick through the window, Cummings said.
At least 17 North Side businesses have been damaged, most of them on W. Broadway. There are already street patrols there, banding together to guard the neighborhood’s remaining grocery store, So Low Grocery Outlet.
“We are looking at community policing models,” said Cummings. “People stand outside, and when it becomes nighttime, they’ll make sure everybody is OK at [JXTA’s] skate park, the four corners, back of the buildings.”
What struck Cummings was that the youths who looted JXTA could’ve been employed there. The organization is an incubator for artists aged 12 to 21, building skills that are both empowering and entrepreneurial, and offering the opportunity to work with professional artists. Since its founding, JXTA has helped 3,000 children and young adults through its training programs. Currently it employs 77 young people a year.
“If they register for the summer, they could buy their own computer,” he said. “We could provide them with jobs and purpose and place.”
The Hmong Cultural Center, at 375 University Av. W., also was damaged on the night of May 28. Vandals broke windows on the side and back of the building.
“We were specifically concerned about the one in the back because people could’ve come in,” said Mark Pfeifer, director of programs. The next morning, the center’s staff boarded up the windows and moved key artifacts to staffers’ homes.
Pfeifer was unsure about the financial damage, but “it could’ve been a lot worse.” Closed since the coronavirus pandemic started, the Hmong Center had planned to reopen soon, but now things are up in the air.
The Somali Museum of Minnesota, at 1516 E. Lake St., holds more than 700 objects, and is a hub for education on Somali culture. The museum did not respond to a request for comment, but according to its GoFundMe page, some artifacts were lost, and others in the gift shop were damaged. The museum has raised more than $28,000 toward repairs, and has moved most of its objects to secure storage.
“We empathize with the anger and the pain of our community,” said a statement on the museum’s GoFundMe. “The unjust killings of our black brothers and sisters has to end. We pray that everyone stays safe during this time, we pray that Allah protects the protesters fighting for justice.”
St. Paul nonprofit Springboard for the Arts also experienced fire and property damage on May 28. Executive Director Laura Zabel declined to elaborate, saying only that “the Springboard building will be OK,” and emphasizing that people are more important than property.
“We want the focus to be on justice for George Floyd and the many organizers who are demanding an end to the white supremacy and racism that is baked into our systems and our city.”