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Back to the Future (Part 2)

Erik Takeshita

The deeper the roots, the stronger we are. 

I have a print in my office made by a teen from The Point Community Development Corporation with this on it. I couldn’t agree more. We need to know where we came from to get where we wanted to go. This is true for individuals, organizations, and communities.

On November 16, Minneapolis-based Bedlam Theatre had 24 hours of live, web-streamed programming for “Give to the Max Day” including a panel discussion on “Placemaking? Arts Bubble or Dawning of a New Age?”

While I enjoyed participating in the conversation with Bedlam, Anne Gadwa from Metris Arts Consulting, and my colleagues from the Irrigate project (an artist-led creative placemaking initiative in St. Paul that received one of the initial ArtPlace grant awards in September), I am not sure we are asking the right question.

What I mean is I think placemaking is neither an “arts bubble” nor the “dawning of a new age,” but rather something that human beings have always done. We are always striving to make the places we inhabit more livable, attractive, and vibrant.

The recent recognition and resurgence leveraging arts and culture to build stronger communities is merely an old idea rediscovered.

For example, the settlement houses of the late 19th and early 20th century in the United States commonly used the arts as a way of engaging immigrants and providing a gateway to the many other services they provided. They also became vital places for people to continue to practice their cultural practices in a new context.

One such settlement house is Pillsbury House in Minneapolis. Founded in 1879, Pillsbury offered employment, education, and health services as well as art classes.

Pillsbury House today continues to offer the same types of programming as well as being home to Pillsbury House Theatre, a professional theater company focused on creating challenging theatre to inspire choice, change, and connection.

Unfortunately, while in the same building, these two functions – social services and the theatre –have not always been fully integrated. Over the past few years, Pillsbury House has made an intentional effort rectify this and transform Pillsbury House into a “hub for creativity and community.”

Having just spent a few days there last week, I can confidently say that it’s working!

Examples of how arts are being linked to services are abound, including having movement classes for children in their early education program, to the recently release of Kaoz Presents: Real Talk MPLS, a full length musical project featuring Twin Cities youth and adult artists designed to break the silence around HIV/STD’s, bullying, homophobia, and violence.

While organizations like Pillsbury House are finding their future by returning to their past, so can whole communities.

This is certainly true with the work being promoted by the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI) in the American Indian community in Minneapolis. NACDI and its All My Relations Arts recognize the value of historical and cultural assets and are actively using them to promote the well-being of American Indian people and the community.

Their current show, Mne Sota: Reflections of Time and Place, is a traveling exhibition of contemporary Native artists working in traditional ways. The exhibit is a powerful reminder that Native American art and culture is alive and well and not something to be objectified in a museum. The opening event was testament to the power of the arts, bringing over 500 people to the American Indian Cultural Corridor, everyone from chronic inebriates to millionaires.

The power of art to bring people together, remind us of our past and propel us into our future is something that has existed for millennia.

It is neither a blip on the radar screen nor is it the dawning of a new age. Instead, it is merely a reminder to go back to our future.

*Note: Erik’s first Back to the Future post can be found here.

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