With their programs postponed, Twin Cities arts organizations are finding new ways to open doors to the communities they serve.
The compounding crises of the COVID-19 pandemic, higher unemployment and unrest after the death of George Floyd have made life more precarious for many in the Twin Cities, and people in the arts are among those who are stepping up.
Springboard for the Arts’ parking lot has been a site for distributing food and other necessities. All My Relations Arts became a food and neighborhood protection site. Victoria Theater Arts Center has hosted community healing events. Catalyst Arts has sponsored events around uniting artists. Pillsbury House Theatre created a pantry and supplied water to mourners at Thursday’s memorial service for Floyd.
Perhaps most dramatically, Mixed Blood Theatre has transformed itself into a big-box store. The shuttered theater is now offering food and other essentials to its neighbors on Minneapolis’ West Bank.
“The intent started with the Somali community here in Cedar-Riverside. We were going to set out a few tables to pass out food, but now we look like a Costco, with items spread out all over the place,” said Catherine Campbell, who has pivoted from production manager of the theater to helping keep the neighborhood fed and safe.
That was the impulse for efforts at nearby All My Relations, too. With the gallery closed and volunteers using its Franklin Avenue parking lot as a central point for protecting the American Indian cultural corridor during unrest following Floyd’s death, organizers put out a call for help in keeping the protectors nourished.
“People started bringing everything in, so the gallery turned into a holding space for all the supplies: fire extinguishers and water and diapers, anything that could help the community that had been impacted by the destruction,” said Angela Two Stars, director of All My Relations. “It was a special thing to see — especially since the American Indian Movement was created out of a response to police brutality in the ’60s against the American Indian community — to be able to rely on our people to protect the Phillips neighborhood.”
Two Star said All My Relations is eager to get back to sharing art; it had public artists out creating murals last weekend. She said the best way to keep up with the rapidly changing situation at All My Relations is its website or through the Native American Community Development Institute.
Produce, toiletries, paper goods, menstrual products and baby items are among the offerings at Mixed Blood. They can be picked up from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Donations also are accepted at Mixed Blood, 1501 S. 4th St., with high-priority needs including milk, flour, sugar, eggs, detergent and reusable bags.
The impromptu pantry is set up like a store, in which patrons “shop” for the things they need. Mixed Blood is attempting to observe physical distancing, restricting the “store” to a few families at a time. About 300 families came on the first official day, June 1.
Mixed Blood employees, who have plenty of experience at building things, also have worked to secure the neighborhood, boarding up dozens of local businesses.
Props designer Abbee Warmboe has been keeping track of donated goods and funds while making sure businesses have supplies they need.
“Theater has trained us to be able to step in quickly,” said Warmboe. “We see a need and we fill a need. Our instinct is to go and be productive. In terms of what’s happening in our city right now, that’s the best way I can put myself to use.”
Like everyone, Mixed Blood employees don’t know how long they’ll need to be useful in this new way or how long the theater will be idle. It recently commissioned theater artists to create short works in response to recent events.
“We’re not going to have this going for two weeks and then say we’re done. That’s not what fighting for justice is about or working for our community is about,” said Campbell, who said the plan is to strengthen partnerships with other neighborhood groups to continue to assist Cedar-Riverside.
Seven miles to the east on University Avenue, Springboard for the Arts’ St. Paul parking lot has become a temporary pantry and donation site.
“We are really invested in trying to, first and foremost, be a good neighbor and be part of what our neighborhood and community needs in Rondo and Frogtown, in particular supporting black artists and black businesses,” said Laura Zabel, Springboard’s executive director.
Zabel emphasized that she sees Springboard’s role as listening to and supporting the many efforts already in place.
“Our goal for that space in St. Paul has always been that it’s in service to the community,” said Zabel, whose organization moved into the new location just two weeks before the pandemic forced it to shutter. “Part of why being in that neighborhood is important is that arts and culture should be about meaning-making. And that includes supporting and thinking about the needs of a community.”