Biggers Seed Project funded, planning underway for new North Minneapolis mural


Out of the impermanence of a painted freeway sound wall may come a permanent asset for the arts community, as well as, 13 years after demolition of the original North Minneapolis mural, an opportunity to learn history and art across generations.

The City of Minneapolis learned July 17 the National Endowment for the Arts Our Town grant will fund the John Biggers Seed Project. This $150,000 grant matches funding from the City’s Art in Public Places program.

Mary Altman, the city’s public art staff person, said about two-thirds of the needed funding is in place and there are other grant applications out. There is also work to be done to develop the process of selecting artists to work on the project; it’s anticipated that recruiting will take place in fall.

Seitu Jones and Ta-coumba Aiken were involved in 1996 when John Biggers, the acclaimed African American muralist, and 17 emerging artists created the Celebration of Life mural on 160 feet of concrete freeway wall near Lyndale Avenue. The “Celebration of Life” mural used African folk symbols set against a serene blue background, and was intended to convey a message of creation and spiritual balance. When Heritage Park was built, the wall was torn down amid much angst and protest.

Several works by Seitu Jones, developed with community members, have been incorporated into the infrastructure of Heritage Park in one effort to mitigate the loss of the iconic art.

In the new project, Jones and Aiken will again play key roles, as will two associates of Biggers, Willis Bing Davis of Ohio and Jon Onye Lockard of Michigan, who were selected through an invitation call. Biggers died in 2001.

Obsidian Arts will coordinate emerging artist selection, training and follow-up.

The John Biggers Seed Project is described in City talking points as a public art and collaborative design effort that engages renowned African American artists in mentoring young emerging artists in placemaking by educating them about African American art and community history, providing career development and transferable skills, and creating a sense of place that speaks to the culture of North Minneapolis.

While the exact site and design are still to be determined, the application said it would be “Sited at the convergence of Olson Memorial Highway and Interstate 94, currently an unattractive corridor with the potential to be a major Minneapolis gateway. This artwork will be seen by over thousands of people daily. The process will engage young artists and the community in an area of the City that will see many transit, housing and development changes in the near future, and bring North Loop residents and visitors within view of North Minneapolis’ neighborhoods.”

In the new project, enamel panels, more durable than paint, will be produced to form the artwork. The kiln needed to fire the panels can be used by other artists after the project is done.

The Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center will be responsible for the activities related to fabricating the enamel panels that will form the artwork. They will host an enamel workshop with a nationally recognized enamel artist, oversee enamel kiln construction, train and oversee artists in the enamel process and provide kiln maintenance. A third partner, the Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) in North Minneapolis will help to coordinate local community engagement activities and host a number of the artist trainings.