Light snow turned into a rapid flurry Sunday afternoon at Roberts Annex, the vacant-lot-turned-artist-project where Roberts Shoes once stood in south Minneapolis. Three weeks ago, a pop-up barbershop had offered passersby COVID-safe haircuts on this corner at Lake Street and Chicago Avenue, just eight blocks from where George Floyd died.
“A grandma came by with grandkids and said, ‘Can I get their hair cut?’ ” said actor and theater professor Harry Waters Jr. “We had all the protocols, people wiping down. People would sit and watch.”
Waters is co-director this year for BareBones Productions, the Twin Cities company beloved for its annual Halloween pageants that have brought giant puppets, fire dancers and acrobatics to audiences in public parks for the past 26 years. Its current production, however, takes a radically different approach.
“We are in a triple pandemic with COVID-19, systemic racism and the election coming up,” said Waters, who in May watched Lake Street burn from his apartment in Midtown Global Market.
Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. until dark, the space will transform into a stage for Elliot Etzkorn’s “Calling of the Names” project, a modification of a regular BareBones offering. Visitors can walk up to the mic and speak the names of people they’ve lost.
Next to it is Gustavo Adolfo Boada Rivas’ papier-mâché mural “De Colores.” Inspired by the anthem of the United Farm Workers movement, it depicts an overflowing rainbow, the goddess of water and fertility and naked immigrant kids in the flowing stream, inspired by the children detained at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Roberts Annex is one of more than 25 sites where visitors can encounter works by 40 artists taking part in BareBones’ 2020 program, “Offerings: Artists Respond to the Mourning, Grieving and Fires on Lake Street.”
You can do a choose-your-own-adventure tour using a map at BareBonesPuppets.org to navigate the locations along Lake Street and at George Floyd Memorial Square at 38th and Chicago. Some projects are already over, but others will be on view through Nov. 7, and an online retrospective will be available in mid-November.
When Waters and Lelis Brito, a Venezuelan American theater director, choreographer and educator, applied to be guest directors this year, they focused on artists from seven different communities: Black, Latinx, Somali, Native, trans, Nordic and the unhoused.
Altars from the rubble
The Roberts Annex also features “Floreceremos” (Spanish for “We will bloom”), an altar-like sculpture made from bricks, rubble, carpet and burnt wood by Johanna Keller Flores and Kieran Myles-Andrés Tverbakk. Atop this offering to the community, the artists placed a written poem on waterproof paper, a miniature snake, frog and other “alebrijes,” or little animal guardian figures, and fresh plants and flowers.
“I feel like it’s important to have something physical to ground your grief,” said Flores.
“It would be so easy to forget if the rubble wasn’t still here,” said Tverbakk, pointing to a giant pile of debris across the street where a Foot Locker and other stores once stood. “This stuff has really traumatized the people in this neighborhood.”
Brito and Waters started planning this event in June, walking Lake Street with a group of BareBones artists every Sunday afternoon.
“We live here,” said Brito. “We were embedded in what happened during the uprising. … Having those ongoing experiences of Lake Street inform people’s art-making. It’s embodied because you are paying attention to how your body feels when you are walking.”
At the east end of Lake, just blocks from the Mississippi River, BakiBakiBaki Z Porter and Chaim Budenosky installed an altar made of two repurposed cabinets covered in mirrors and lace inside the garage of R.A.R.E. Productions, a support organization for BIPOC queer and trans artists. They’ll activate the piece Friday from 3 to 6 p.m., with likely late-night hours on Saturday.
The piece is intended to help people grieve, and create a spiritual portal to their ancestors. “People have had to grieve a lot through Zoom, and it’s like — you can see yourself in that little box, but you can’t connect really well,” said Porter, who is Black, Native and nonbinary.
But the space will also have lights, reflections and the celebratory feel of a queer club.
“When people come in, I want them to be confused [and] think, ‘Wait, is this a party?’ ” said Porter. “This year has been one of the deadliest for Black trans people in particular. The threat of death is ever-present but our love is everlasting, and that’s what we are trying to get at.”