In the next few weeks, after the deal will be closed for moving into the current Wreck Bros. building near the intersection of 38th and Chicago, the new Chicago Ave. Fire Arts Center will have the distinct honor of being the vanguard for the City of Minneapolis’ redevelopment of that troubled business node.
The property has been purchased using City development money and will be leased by ArtSpace, one of the country’s foremost real estate developers for the arts. According to the City’s vision statement for that plan, the businesses and neighborhoods of the area are to be recast as a place “where people connect with each other and have the opportunity to grow and develop socially, artistically, economically and ethically.”
“The new center will be one of the only few of its kind in the Midwest,” said Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center (CAFAC) Board Member Maren Christenson. “I believe that you’d have to go to Chicago to find the same sort of equipment and facilities that the new center will offer,” Christenson said.
Fire arts, according to information available from CAFAC, is sculptural welding, blacksmithing, foundry, jewelry-making, enameling, glassworking, neon, electronics/LED, and fire performance. Besides studio space and storefront gallery space for working and emerging artists, the center will offer education in those media ranging from “beginner’s level classes to master’s level seminars led by renowned artists.”
“We should begin offering classes by the end of the year,” said Christenson.
Programs will be geared toward adult learners, with summertime classes offered for youth. Open studio/independent study opportunities will be available for students who have completed requisite introductory courses. The center will also partner with local schools to provide educational opportunities for youth.
“A big part of having the center will be making arts activities available to children,” said 8th Ward Minneapolis Council Member Elizabeth Glidden.
CAFAC Board Member, metal sculptor and teacher Heather Doyle has been introducing area youth to creating art with a torch since 2006, when the City Council voted unanimously in support of programs targeting the prevention of youth violence. Doyle and several other concerned neighbors felt that the community needed to create a constructive and creative outlet for youth to communicate their ideas and dreams. Her students have made four sculptures which were installed in front of Chicago Avenue’s Bahai Center along with an introductory piece created by Doyle.
“One of the unique aspects of the area is the high numbers of youths compared to the rest of the city. The Powderhorn and Central Neighborhoods are particularly kid-heavy,” Glidden said. According to 2000 census data, children (under age 18) make up 31.8 percent of Central, Powderhorn Park, Bancroft and Bryant Neighborhoods, as compared with 22 percent of Minneapolis as a whole.
“It’s also an area of the city in which the arts are a big part of life for people,” said Glidden.
The metro areas of the Twin Cities and western Wisconsin rank eighth in the top 29 areas of the country for concentration of artists, according to 2000 census data.
And using the arts as a social and economic engine to drive urban renewal is a plan the roots of which may be as new and unique as the center itself. The push to include a venue for artistic endeavors as part of neighborhood renewal started from grassroots organizing as early as 2004 and perhaps earlier, led by the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood and Bancroft Neighborhood Associations. Other contributing groups include the Bryant Neighborhood Organization, Central Area Neighborhood Development Organization, 38th St. and Chicago Avenue Business Association and 38th Street and Chicago Avenue Task Force.
“I know the idea was brought up continually by neighborhood residents even before I became a council member,” Glidden said.
“By investing in an artistic space, these organizations spruce up a neighborhood or commercial strip and help reverse small town, downtown, or inner-city decline,” said the Humphrey Institute’s Ann Markusen and Amanda Johnson in their 2006 paper, “Artists’ Centers: Evolution and Impact on Careers, Neighborhoods and Economies.”
“They bring psychic energy and visual pleasure to the community, and they give residents somewhere besides bars and churches to socialize, play and be challenged,” say the researchers of the effects of artistic activity on local economies. Markusen was also a consultant to the CAFAC board.
“She is the guru of the arts in the city,” said Christenson. “Her work was instrumental in putting together this center,” Christenson said.