Northsiders ask what it means to be an artist working in the community

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Decade anniversaries have a marked way of provoking both reflection and projection. Now in its 10th year, FLOW Northside arts crawl tried to do both: reflect on its past and move forward from it–beginning with their first artist talk. It centered on the question of what it means to be an artist working in the community, and specifically the Northside community.

Taking place at Homewood Studios in North Minneapolis, the gathering drew some two-dozen artists and community members. One of the main goals, explained FLOW Artistic Director Dudley Voigt, was to provide an opportunity for established artists and emerging artists to be in the same space and learn from one another. “Particularly for visual artists as well as writers, for a lot of us, it can be very solitary work. And FLOW is very public, and yet it’s still solitary in the sense that the artists are spread out and they don’t get to see each others’ work.” Voigt and Homewood founder George Robert led the discussion, which included seven of FLOW’s 10 artists whose work was selected as a part of the organization’s 10-year anniversary postcard series.

One of those artists was illustrator and muralist Melodee Strong. For Strong, “There’s a really direct relationship with the community and my art, because [if] I’m illustrating a children’s book, I’m representing usually people of color, because that’s my goal in the work–that there’s more people of color in children’s literature. So I’m always observing the world, and my world is Northside.” In her mural work, the painter says she frequently calls on community members to help paint various spaces, which she sees as a collective effort to beautify their city.

Artists and community members gather for 2015 FLOW Northside Artist Talk. (Photo by Author)

Artists and community members gather for 2015 FLOW Northside Artist Talk. (Photo by Author)

Throughout the discussion, many spoke about the idea of art as transformation and art as ongoing process, on both individual and community levels. Designer Souliyahn Keobounpheng (also a FLOW postcard artist) spoke about re-purposing found objects; while sculptor/printmaker Bill Jeter talked about art as a way to make sense of the world around him.

For 19-year-old Juxtaposition (JXTA) Arts apprentice Canaan Ray-Strong (no relation to Melodee Strong), community is fluid. “[My art] intersects with my community around the city; not just North Minneapolis/South Minneapolis.” Pointing to hip hop culture and a more recent proliferation of screen printers and graff writers in the city, Ray-Strong explained, “That’s how I got into painting; that’s how I got into JXTA, is just trying to link up with the community. A lot of the gestures I’m painting are my handstyles in graffiti and stuff like that. And just my aesthetic, my subject matter, the process is all developed and influenced by hip hop.”

“I’m still thinking about why I do [the art I do],” mused multimedia artist Kayla Baribeau. Baribeau, who shares a studio with Ray-Strong, is also a Juxtaposition apprentice. Much of her recent output focuses on portraits she says speak to “natural hair and black women beauty.” As a native Northsider, she cites JXTA as a resource that helped provide her with an outlet during a rougher patch in high school. “It’s a really supportive community. I love the North side. Really nice people, really nice area…People are willing to help each other.”

FLOW as an organization hopes to do the same, creating more events like this year’s Artist Talk, along with other artist development initiatives. “One of the things we are super committed to moving forward is helping our artists grow by providing them with opportunities,” said Artistic Director Dudley Voigt. “So that we all move forward and grow together.”

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