Creating Artspace buildings, such as the Northside Artspace Lofts in North Minneapolis, are as much about trust and understanding as bricks and mortar. At the core of developing a solid plan for artist housing, the needs of the artists and goals of the community must be explored and incorporated into the project's vision. Community engagement therefor helps inform the Artspace team throughout the process, and is a crucial part of reaching goals to not only fully lease up a new building, but to also ensure that it reflects the surrounding community while breaking down barriers that frequently exist for culturally diverse artists in disinvested neighborhoods.
For the Northside Artspace Lofts (NAL) in North Minneapolis—located in Artspace’s hometown—it has been very important for the Artspace team to call upon old relationships while developing meaningful, new community contacts. For those unfamiliar, North Minneapolis is a predominantly Black community with historic redlining roots, which is now on the precipice of gentrification (but not if Northside community developers, artists, and small business owners have anything to say about it). Understated and undervalued is the amount of cultural assets and cultural wealth the Northside possesses. There is truly creative genius and tenacious community leadership in the North. It has been Artspace’s intention to hear the voices of the Northside and amplify their messaging in ways that strengthens community wealth of BIPOC communities.
While every community and project are different, Artspace is committed to a process of community engagement that is equitable and inclusive. For NAL, Artspace initially reached out to Juxtaposition Arts (JXTA), Redeemer Lutheran Church, and Northside resident and consultant Alexis Pennie to design a thoughtful approach to community outreach. Through these key relationships, Artspace targeted outreach to community stakeholders, artists, cultural nonprofit organizations, faith-based groups, and neighborhood associations. Artspace was able to reach marginalized community members and bring them information pertaining to NAL, both connecting one-on-one and providing them with opportunities to learn more through upcoming information sessions and application workshops. This deep community outreach also focused on LGBTQ+ communities, nonprofits for youth experiencing homelessness, and statewide veteran groups.
The involvement of Juxtaposition Arts (JXTA) has been vital to Artspace’s work on the Northside project. With a long history of community building, youth employment, and arts training, JXTA fulfilled a scope of work including the public space design concept and design and fabrication of loggia seating and bike racks, the creations of a NAL branding guide, and tactical urban marketing. Artspace and JXTA have spent the last six months, leading up to lease up of the NAL building, hosting online information sessions and application workshops. JXTA will also lead the creation of a mural this summer.
Northside Artspace Lofts started construction in February 2020, with completion expected by the beginning June 2021. The first tenants are expected to begin moving in mid- to late-June.
Pictured in the middle and right is the Artspace Community Engagement team—Alexis Pennie, Northside Resident Consultant, and Jeremy Staab, Artspace Director of National Advancement—meeting with Joe Davis, pictured on the left, a local Northside artist and Founder, Director, & CEO of The New Renaissance. Photo taken at Venture North Bike Walk & Coffee, where they discussed the new Northside Artspace Loft project. Photo by Jovan Shabazz.
During my time as an inaugural fellow within the Rafala Green Fellowship with Artspace, I was fortunate to be assigned to the Northside Artspace Lofts project. This 100-unit development presents an important opportunity for a shared community vision around a flexible space where residents and community are able to grow and evolve, while addressing affordable housing needs in line with what the community prioritizes and values. It was my strong desire to help connect low-wealth communities—particularly Black, Brown, and Indigenous people—into the information session and application workshops to ensure Northside residents and artists are reflected in NAL. As affordable housing needs continue to be unmet, it is important that Artspace continues to provide opportunities for people who income qualify for this housing, and that it represents and reflects the community in which it is being built.