Building bridges, not fences


“When something bad happens, people are there to help you.” That, says Angela Haeny, is one of the lessons that the Waite House kids in that bus on the bridge last August 1 took away from the tragedy. This summer, more than 50 young artists, ages 9-17, came together to design and create a public mural giving voice to their experiences as survivors of the 2007 I-35W bridge collapse.

The mural at Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis, will be unveiled in a ceremony at 10 a.m. on Friday, August 1. The mural at 13th and Lake will be celebrated at a party on Friday from 4:30-6:30. The public is invited to both events.

Rachel Henderson and Angela Haeny, Waite House staff

Angela was on the bus, along with the kids she worked with last summer. The St. Cloud native is a student at the University of Minnesota, and she had been working in Waite House after-school and summer youth programs for almost a year when the bridge broke. She was on the bus along with more than half the youth and young adults from Waite House who had participated in last summer’s mural project at St. Vincent’s.

After several months of recovery, Julie Graves, Youth Program Manager at Waite House and Chaka Mkali, Teen Program Coordinator/Adult & Youth Organizer at Hope Community began to discuss the idea of continuing the relationship between their organizations through a therapeutic mural project. This summer’s murals at Intermedia Arts and at 13th and Lake are the fruit of that collaboration.

Kayleigh Swift, who will start seventh grade at Field Middle School in September, was also on the bus. This summer she is one of the young people from Waite House who have created a mural at Intermedia Arts, focused on the theme of “Building Bridges, Not Fences.”

“I’ve always liked art,” Kayleigh says, “but I’ve never done it as much as now. Doing a mural is big—and it’s going to be up for a year!”

The seventh, eighth and ninth graders in Waite House’s Jump Start group worked on the mural at Intermedia Arts, while a high school group worked on a mural at 13th and Lake. Both had the same theme, arrived at in a process that included many youth at Waite House.

“We all decided we wanted hands holding up the bridge, the bus on it, and the mural going from dark to light,” Kayleigh explains.

While they enjoy working on the mural, that’s only part of the summer program for the Waite House crew. On Tuesdays, they put spray cans to work creating the mural. On Thursdays, they go out looking for illegal graffiti. When they find it, they tell the building owner about the city program for free graffiti clean-up.

Both Kayleigh and Angela are quick to say that the mural is a collaborative project, bringing together people from Waite House, Hope Community and Intermedia Arts. The people from Hope, they agree, are key to the artistic project.

Hope Community, Waite House Neighborhood Center and Intermedia Arts are three community-based non-profit organizations with a long history as allies, partners and collaborators dedicated to building and strengthening their South Minneapolis community through art, empowerment, and community development.

Hope Community

Waite House Neighborhood Center

Intermedia Arts

Chaka Mkali works with youth at Hope Community, and has led several mural projects, including three or four murals with Waite House over the past few years. He talks about the power of place and space, and the need to recognize and identify “the power we all have.”

Chaka Mkali is quick to give credit to Hope Community workers, ages 19-25, who helped the Waite House youth with artistic direction. They are: Jordan Hamilton, Alex Laskarias, Katrina Knutson, Andrew McDonald, Rick Carey, Neecharn Lee, Adrian Suttle, and Elijah Benson.

None of the adults came up with concepts or titles for the murals, he says. That came from the young people. The process of creating the murals, he says, helps them to come to terms with the bridge collapse. They understand that, “this did occur, but it’s not how you define your whole life.” Their work on the mural is “a life lesson, a process, not an end result.”

Mary Turck is the editor of the Twin Cities Daily Planet.