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Q&A: Minneapolis city leaders partner with artists to provide 10 community healing projects

Arts & Culture

Q&A with Gülgün Kayim, director of the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy with the City of Minneapolis

Editor’s note: This Q&A feature is part of a series of articles highlighting 10 Minneapolis artists who turned to their community to create a ripple effect of connection, healing and joy following George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent uprisings. Read the latest features:
Q&A: Minneapolis artist D.A. Bullock re-envisions a collective future of accountability and care
Q&A: Minneapolis artist creates outdoor barbershop to help community process grief through haircuts
Q&A: Artist led engagement in Minneapolis brings community healing and connections
Q&A: Minneapolis city leaders partner with artists to provide 10 community healing projects

Nearly six months after George Floyd’s police killing sparked massive protests and left areas of the city destroyed, community unrest continues to surge in Minneapolis. The city is grappling with multiple crises: the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, an unprecedented wave of violence, and officer departures that cause many to worry if the police force will be able to respond to emergencies.

Artist Sam Ero Phillips’ “Haircuts for Change” project focuses on healing and beauty practices in the South Minneapolis Black community by providing haircuts and self-care in pop up locations along Lake St. and Chicago Ave. in collaboration with the Barebones Puppet Theatre fall performance. Photographer: Pierre Ware.

In the wake of these events, Arts Midwest partnered with the Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy of the City of Minneapolis to provide grant funding for 10 artist-led community healing projects. The Creative Response Fund is a program of the Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy that brings artists and City of Minneapolis staff together to stimulate innovative thinking, address racial inequities and create a more responsive government by cultivating meaningful intersections between city staff and experienced community artists.

The 10 selected Creative Response Fund projects are led by existing and former Creative CityMaking artists as they respond to this horrific moment in Minneapolis that continues to impact the community today. The first funding priority for the project was given to Black artists working with communities who have historically experienced the stress and trauma of racial discrimination.

We connected with Gülgün Kayim to learn more about the project and how artists are helping to move the city toward healing.   

Kresge: The aim of the Creative Response Fund is to mobilize the unique skills of artists to engage and support residents in a community healing project. Why are artists and designers best suited for this effort?

The unique skills that artists and designers bring to the work of healing is the ability to transform and make material the intangible, complex and sometimes conflicting emotions and ideas. We are all in need of empathy right now and also in need of a way to manifest, make material and process the complexity of this moment.

There is so much to grieve about and process that it is overwhelming. Through their work and actions, I see artists create space for these complicated feelings that are difficult to articulate, they remind us of what is important and what we have in common. Those actions create some measure of relief in simple ways that are welcoming and easy to respond to, and in ways that I do not see from other professions.

Artist Witt Siasoco and the “Carry on Homes” project team (Aki Shibata, Zoe Cinel, Preston Drum, Peng Wu, and Shun Jie Yong) created an installation to celebrate immigrant communities’ contributions to Northeast Minneapolis. Photographer: Pierre Ware.

Kresge: How has the city’s ongoing unrest directly impacted the community overall, and specifically the Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy?

There have been obvious and ongoing emotional and physical impacts. These impacts have been felt by everyone – residents, elected officials, city departments and staff. Elected officials have been impacted by the scale and intensity of the uprisings, which continue in specific areas of the city. Activists continue to push for change and demonstrate outside the homes of many officials. There has also been a severe erosion of confidence in the police department as illustrated by how many elected officials have responded to community desires for change by supporting ideas of defunding, rather than restructuring the police department. The police department itself is also under investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

Other impacts have included an increase in demand for services and the workload of departments, especially those tasked with clearing the rubble, assessing the cost of property damage, assisting businesses in rebuilding and community engagement. All this comes at a time when departments are also cutting staff and cutting spending due to COVID-related budget deficits.

For the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, the impacts hit close to home, both literally and emotionally, as our staff live very close to the damaged areas of the city. We have also been engaged with supporting our Creative CityMaking artists, some of whom have had their workspaces damaged and others who are responding to urgent community needs. One artist painted the now iconic mural at 38th and Chicago to facilitate grieving; another has a store front studio across the street from where George Floyd was killed and has been mentoring community activists and hosting community meetings. This intersection is still under occupation by community activists. And as with other departments, the demand for our services has increased. We are currently considering a number of projects that come out of this particular moment such as the recovery of those business corridors on the southside that experienced the most severe property damage; the future of the Third precinct, which was destroyed by protestors; and and the internal restructuring of public safety.

Artists Sayge Carroll and Keegan Xavi hosted “Tiny Art” workshops with YO MAMMA’S HOUSE and distributed “Tiny Art Kits.” Photographer: Pierre Ware.

Kresge: The 10 projects are being led by current and former Creative CityMaking artists as they respond to this historic moment in Minneapolis. How did you select the projects?

We created the Creative Response Fund to support the work of Creative CityMaking artists at a time of emergency when they were already mobilizing their resources and skills to support their communities this moment of crisis. We also decided we wanted to support and recognize the unpaid labor of these artists at this time when unemployment for all artists is at an unprecedented high. Over the years, we have funded 22 artists through the Creative CityMaking program, and we had enough resources to support 15 projects at $10,000 each. As we received 11 team submissions, we were able to offer all of them funding support. One project withdrew at a later date.

Kresge: First funding priority was given to Black artists working with communities who have historically experienced the stress and trauma of racial discrimination. Although it may seem obvious why this decision was made, why was it critical to outline priority funding in the project?

As we could not fund all eligible applicants, we wanted to ensure that these resources were clearly prioritized in a way that reached the artists and communities most impacted by this emergency. This was our response to the crisis of George Floyd’s killing, to recognize the harm done to the Black community and historically to Black lives through police violence. We understand that racism is a public health emergency that impacts many communities. We had a similar situation when Jamar Clark was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in 2015, and at that time, we felt that prioritizing resources was a way we could call out this pattern of violence.

Artists Sayge Carroll and Keegan Xavi partnered launch Harvest Feast by connecting arts and healing activities through food, artmaking and acts of collective nurturing in their respective Northside and Southside neighborhoods. Photographer: Pierre Ware.

Kresge: Each of the 10 projects involve storytelling and deep dialogue. Ultimately, what change do you hope to see in Minneapolis during this process and once the projects come to a close?

The Creative CityMaking program has a history and practice of partnering community artists with city staff on projects that impact underserved, underrepresented communities. Our work focuses on providing support and building relationships between city staff and artists from underserved communities so they can work together to reexamine and address city policies, practices, and processes.

Usually Creative CityMaking projects require collaboration with a city staff partner who works to provide the policy structure that is being changed, such as a small area plan or census data collection process. Through this work we have seen tangible policy and ordinance changes in at least three city departments. However, these 10 projects are intended to be responsive to community needs, and as such do not require connection to a city staff lead or to engage in addressing policy change. That said, we know that it’s very difficult for communities traumatized by violence to move towards recovery without first addressing and attending to the pain, the need to grieve, to express and share emotion. We hope these projects will provide some relief for the community members that we serve.

Kresge: As a personal reflection, is there one story that sticks out most in your mind related to the current community unrest and the impact artists have already made to support healing in Minneapolis?

This is probably the most difficult question to answer as the recent community unrest has demonstrated to us that many Minneapolis artists have played and are still playing important roles in supporting community in many different ways. What we saw demonstrated here in Minneapolis during the civil unrest were community based artists rushing to support the protests and contributing their skills and resources to amplify the voices of marginalized communities. Now that the protests are largely over, artists have turned to using their resources to support communities to address their own healing on their own terms. One project that is a good example is Harvest Feast led by Keegan Xavi and Sayge Carroll. This project involved creating and serving a harvest feast as a radical act of caring and support. The project engaged residents who live on the southside and northside of Minneapolis within blocks of the violence and destruction.

Artists served a special meal, on beautiful artist-made table settings and organized performers to serenade neighbors as they dined in their front yards. Both artists live in these communities which have food insecurity issues and these issues were amplified by COVID and then exasperated by the destruction of local stores during the uprisings. While this project was funded by the CCM Creative Response Fund, we simply stepped in to help increase and extend the scale of the work that was already being planned. The project went very well, so much so that neighbors then organized their own project with the aid of the artists. They called their project Release It and it involved action painting using paint filled balloons in a public space to help release stress and tension. The reason this project sticks in my mind is because it was intimate, beautiful, responsive and deeply caring. It grew organically from one event to several events and demonstrated how artists use their skills to weave community relationships, build social cohesion and help communities heal on their own terms.

The Creative Response Fund is supported by The Kresge Foundation’s Arts & Culture Program, which has provided grant funding to the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy for three years and the Creative CityMaking program for seven years. Learn more about the artists and projects. 

Read a recent feature story on the Hair Cuts for Change project, Creative healing through haircuts: Minneapolis artist creates outdoor barbershop to help community process grief.

Read the Washington Post’s six-part series, “George Floyd’s America,” examining the role systemic racism played throughout Floyd’s 46-year life.