Light rail project picks neighborhood artist to beautify St. Paul stations


Longtime artist Seitu Jones was selected by the Central Corridor LRT Project to design public art for the Lexington, Dale, and Rice LRT stations in St. Paul.

“I applied for the opportunity to do one or some of the stations,” he explains of the selection process he and a pool of national artists were involved in. He jokingly compared the selection process to being on a reality television show.

“You had to go through making a team … You make the first cut. [Then] we were given the opportunity to flesh out some ideas and then present those ideas to the selection committee.”

Of the five artist teams selected to design 15 stations, Jones is one of three locally based artists — he’s the only one who currently lives and operates his studio in the same St. Paul neighborhood he is creating art for. “To be able to work right here in my neighborhood is a grand opportunity.”

Jones’ experience in this area is rare among Black artists, he notes. “I’m fortunate as well to have this career to do large-scale artwork — I’ve worked on projects all over… [Officials] are asking that you have at least three or four public sector projects in your portfolio. What that does is making that pool of artists much smaller. There are only three persons of color in Minnesota that meet the criteria.”

He also has three “emerging artists” — Roger Cummings, Satoko Muratake and Peyton — working with him on the project. “That’s another reason why I am working with these emerging artists. They wouldn’t have been able to qualify, even though they’ve got public art project experience behind them; but not public-sector, public-art experience.

“I’ve worked with Peyton ever since he was in high school,” says Jones. “He and Roger both founded Juxtaposition Artists in North Minneapolis, and Satoko is a landscape artist. These are folk I have worked with in the past, and will bounce ideas back and forth to each other.”

Jones grew up in Minneapolis. “Growing up there, being a child of the ’60s and ’70s, growing up as a part of the Black Arts Movement, one of the tenets that we learned at that time is that we should leave your community more beautiful than you found it,” he recalls. “With all the work that I do, I still follow that tenet.

“I draw from this long tradition… I tie myself back to the long African American visual art tradition as well. I draw deeply from that, and I draw from all these contemporary ideas. I’m listening to music because it helps me sometimes.

“My neighbors inspire me. When my windows are open and I got the blinds open, I can see this parade of folk that go past my windows. It’s all of those things that inspire me.”

Furthermore, Jones wants to ensure that the stations truly reflect the community. “There’s an extra weight or burden that I have because if I do something that the folks in the station areas won’t claim ownership of, I also will get the blame,” he explains. “Also, with my father having these roots in the old Rondo neighborhood, and a lot of his contemporaries are still around — I hear them in my ears, literally and figuratively, and [I’m] carrying that weight as well, to make sure that I create something that honors their memory.”

Jones says he has taken great pains to ensure that what residents have said at several “visionary sessions” held by the Central Corridor LRT officials is also reflected as he works on his designs. He notes, “I’ve gotten a whole slew of responses from each station, and those responses are going to help shape the designs.

“For every piece of public artwork that I’ve created, I try to draw on the social, cultural and the physical characteristics of the site,” Jones points out. “Those three things are the things that guide me, so it really means listening, looking and creating something that doesn’t get stuck in time… [I’m] trying to create something that will last long beyond all of us.

“We are creating these pieces that are going to be here for the next 100 years or more. I want to create something that folks are proud of, and I am proud of.”

Finally, Jones says he not only will be designing art for the stations, but more than likely he also will regularly see it while boarding and departing the new trains. “I depend a lot on public transportation, especially getting back and forth from Minneapolis to St. Paul,” he says proudly. “The Dale Street stop is one of my stops. I use the Rice Street stop to catch the 94 [bus] to go back and forth. And when I miss the Dale Street stop sometimes, I’ll walk all the way up to the Lexington stop.

“These are the stops that I use,” he concludes. “This is going to be a fun opportunity and a great opportunity to contribute to my neighborhood.”

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to

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