Neighborhood art


I am spoiled. I live in a neighborhood where a library, a good grocery store, a decent bottle of wine and hand-roasted coffee are all within a block or two from my house. A little bit of nature is also nearby in the form of Minnehaha Creek. Folks on the block know each other, watch out for each other, and share in each other’s joys and triumphs. Kids sell lemonade to folks walking their dogs. I love my neighborhood, but I miss one thing from my old digs: art.

Or to be more precise, neighborhood art.

Neighborhood art is a wonderful thing. It’s art created by and for the folks who live in a small geographic area. Anyone can enjoy it, but it is created usually with a purpose – more than just having something visually appealing in a public place. It creates community, it brings neighbors together to talk where they might not have otherwise. The resulting work, whether it is a mural or art park or traveling piece, is almost secondary. It’s a potluck and neighborhood night out rolled together with some paint or sculpture. It’s more than public art, which can be anything from a Paul Granlund sculpture on Nicollet Mall to a commissioned mural on the side of a building – those are examples of private art displayed in a public place. True neighborhood art can be harder to find, but when you do find it, it can be awesome.

Fifteen years ago I wrote about the topic in a very earnest masters thesis (which I uncovered recently, which is the only reason I know the timing). Some of the art I wrote about is no longer around – like the mural on a sound wall that separated a now torn-down housing project from the freeway. Some of it has continued – like the fish mural (now slightly faded) on the NSP sub-station in my old neighborhood. The first mural was painted by folks who lived in the housing project along with the guidance and help of professional artists; they worked together to find symbols and imagery that reflected that community and what they hoped it could be. The NSP aquarium fish, well, that was because a couple of folks thought it would be fun to turn the plain, unadorned building into something a little silly, something colorful, something that could be come a rallying point for the neighborhood. An annual fish fry happened in the park kitty-corner from the NSP station – a gathering of the neighborhood with food and music and often a fish parade because a community got together and created something silly and neighborly. And that’s the thing with neighborhood art – some of it “sticks” and some of it doesn’t. Neighborhoods change, so does the art.

Driving from my neighborhood to my daughter’s piano lesson, I drive past some whimsical wraps over traffic light switch boxes. They start and end at the boundaries of a neighborhood and have images that reflect neat stuff happening there (huge onions from the local farmer’s market and a kid riding a trike in the snow are two of my favorites). A bit east of me is a big bronze rabbit that seems to call out for clover necklaces, giant red bows at Christmas and at least once an Easter bonnet. The bunny begs to be climbed on – and climbed on he (she?) is. Neither are in my neighborhood, but I love them. Other neighborhoods’ art, out where I can appreciate it.

My neighborhood doesn’t have much in the way of art. A commissioned mural, some one-off yarn-bombings, but not bring-the-neighbors-together-to-create-it art. I miss that.

What art do you see near you? What might you create?