Artistic opportunities all over Northeast

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Attending a Northeast Network conversation means waking up with a room full of strangers and friends and leaving with a shopping list of ideas to look into, and a few conversations afterward to pursue.

April 12’s 7:30 a.m. topic at the Eastside Food Coop’s community room, State of the Arts: The Theaters and Artists of Northeast, left me with these highlights:

Edison High School will be putting $1.5 million into renovating the auditorium, including a new sound system. “Support for doing theater has skyrocketed,” theater teacher Max Athorn said, “and we’re starting to get realistic about what it costs.” The department is emphasizing student leadership and enjoys access to resources of the Morris Park Players.

Chuck Dibble of Morris Park Players echoed that it’s a great partnership, with the theater mission “give all people a chance to perform.” They get access to the school’s tech kids, photography and graphics classes. Morris Park is the first school where this community theater, founded in 1952, was housed.

Edison students can come back to assist this summer at Northeast Middle School (NEMS), where Dudley Voigt is managing an ambitious theater program. Extending the pipeline, NEMS also tries to involve sixth-graders, and will pick up the middle school students that Sheridan school will be losing. Students will write their own show, performed in early August, in a free summer camp that includes free lunch.

Mike Romens from the Ritz Theater said he’s dedicated to hiring only from the Northeast community. “If you’re not from Northeast and I like your skill set, I find you a home.” The theater recently got a makeover by employees from Target Corporation, and held its yearly fund-raising fashion show this past weekend.

The Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association’s Artist Directory is back from the printer, and about 30 more volunteers are needed to help put on the May 18-20 Art-A-Whirl event. Call 612-788-1679 if interested.

The City of Minneapolis’ new director of Arts and Culture, Gulgun Kayim, who has a studio in the Casket Arts complex, is working on a “creative index” to put an economic value on arts activity in the city. She’s also compiling a list of city sources of money that can be used for arts, such as low-interest loans for small businesses and mini-grants for crime prevention.

Jackson Flats, the artist-oriented live/work rental building at 18-1/2 and Jackson will be moving forward this summer.

Jamie Schumacher of Northeast Community Development Corporation said the Northeast Arts District Committee has been meeting about monthly on the plan for “sustainability of the artists” who are the reason behind the district.

She invited people to post events to their website, www.northeastminneapolisartsdistrict.com and said it gets 30,000 unique visitors annually, looking mostly at the calendar and restaurant pages.

There’s an organization called Artists Well, to assist artists with long-term health issues. Robert Haarman said they help through providing families a meal once a week and a lending loft with books on diet change and healthy housing. They sponsor sharing circles and quarterly informational salons on health issues.

Leslie Palmer Ross of Corporate Art Force, teased because she admitted to “looking for a mime,” reported they have managed to connect some Northeast artists to commissions, and believe they are the largest visual arts employer in Northeast.

In discussion after the presentations, Nick Heille encouraged arts organizations to set the agenda, that many of the corporate businesses in Northeast such as Taco Bell at the Quarry are the largest in their systems. “There’s buying power here.”

State Representative Diane Loeffler asked if the city’s emphasis (through receiving a major grant) on Hennepin Avenue as an arts avenue would cause Northeast to lose its Arts District brand, and if there is any plan to connect the two areas. Kayim responded that there is not, and discussion ensued about many areas discovering arts as what will drive economic development.

First Ward Minneapolis City Council Member Kevin Reich said the mass of arts in Northeast and the economic development that is coming about will remain “the heavyweight. To ours, there’s no comparison,” other geographic areas can use the arts but Northeast will still be seen as the big district.

Schumacher said she’s been studying other cities’ arts districts and “we have all the ingredients” except lacking “a transportation piece.” Discussion wrapped up with announcement of the June 2 biking event (NortheastRide.org) and Bike/Walk to work day. Kayim said the sustainability office, housed in the city coordinator’s office, as is she, is working on a “projection piece that shows what you’re saving, as you ride by.” She said there is lots of potential for bikes and arts to work together this summer.