Above: George Floyd mural on display at the Solidarity Street Gallery in E. St. Paul. Image courtesy of Claire Thomas.

The windows of 20 Payne Avenue businesses on the East Side of St. Paul light up tonight with artwork from more than 50 artists. The Solidarity Street Gallery, a new, three-day street-side arts festival centered around justice, equity and solidarity, begins tonight from 5-9 p.m. on Payne Ave. from Maryland Ave. to Hopkins St., continuing on Fri., Oct. 2. from 5-9 p.m. and Sat., Oct. 3 from 1-10 p.m. Visitors should wear masks, stay socially distanced, and enjoy seeing art from the street.

The three-day event includes art activities for kids, performance art in the Old Swedish Bank, skateboard demos, a live painting demo and live music, and food trucks with tacos, Caribbean food, and more.

“We really wanted to show solidarity with the Black and brown communities of Twin Cities, particularly the Black communities of St. Paul and Minneapolis,” said Claire Thomas, 25, an event organizer who works at the East Side Neighborhood Development Company. “Because of the pandemic there are so few events where we’ve been able to gather as a community and talk about the racial injustices that persist in our society.”

Save the Boards to Memorialize the Movement, an initiative working to save the plywood art murals that cropped up on businesses across the Twin Cities during the uprising this summer, will display eight of the 200 large-scale murals that they have collected.

House of Payne, a soon-to-open venue focused on jazz and Black American music, will have musicians inside rehearsing and artwork visible from the street. Visitors are welcome to peek inside.

The unique street-side event focuses on BIPOC artists, and was created by Black organizers. Thomas, who was raised in St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood, worked with organizer Michael Allota, 25, an East St. Paul native.

Retired community member Stephan Kistler, who is white, came up with the event as a way to stand in solidarity with the Twin Cities’ Black communities, and offer artists on the East side a chance to express how they were feeling.

“Stephan pours his heart and soul into the East side,” said Thomas. 

COVID safety is a high priority, especially because the neighborhood is home to Native, Latinx and Black communities that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. The organizers also wanted to highlight the communities on Payne Ave., including Somali, Hmong and Karen refugees from Burma.

Payne Area Business Association financially sponsored the event. Though they usually do an annual harvest fest in the fall, the Solidarity Street Gallery organizers hope that this event will become a regular occurrence.

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