The Community Plaza, a neighboring property of the Cedar Cultural Center, used to be a fenced-in, empty space that was inaccessible and wasn’t used for much. On April 23, this space has transformed into a place for authenticity and culture.
“We know that this neighborhood suffers from a lack of public space–there aren’t a lot of places where people can come and hang out. So we raised about $700,000 to completely reconstruct this outdoor space to an open community plaza,” said Adrienne Dorn, executive director of the Cedar Cultural Center.
The Community Plaza is now a bustling place. During the grand opening on April 23, young children drew chalk images on the sidewalk while their parents and other guests danced to Latin music, ate samosas and drank Somali tea. Building the new plaza is the first of a two-phase process of renovating the Cedar Cultural Center.
The Cedar was originally a movie theater built in 1948 and was meant to accommodate 200 people. Since then, the Cedar has grown in popularity with dozens of performances every month, but has not had major renovations.
“The Cedar was built for 200 people and sometimes we have 700 people in the room and the bathrooms are not ADA accessible. We did put in a temporary ADA accessible facility, but we really need to renovate the entire thing to make it accessible and better accommodating for a larger number of people. This was phase one of that…also [the fact that] it’s very visible is something that we feel was needed for a long time,” added Dorn.
The open design of the Community Plaza made it accessible and easy to get around. This was a vital feature of the plaza planning, since some of the funds were raised by the organization Very Special Arts Minnesota (VSA MN).
Jon Skaalen, who works with VSA MN said it’s important for people with disabilities and wheelchairs to be able to feel like they are part of the community as well.
Another feature of the new Community Plaza are the Somali influences in the design. The seating modules have a pattern found on the Somali danto dress. The Cedar Cultural Center is located in largest Somali community in North America, Cedar-Riverside.
“We want the community to feel like this is your place too. You can hang out and you can chill. We will have things in the summer, especially since Ramadan is coming, and we’ll be open a little later than usual so that people can buy coffee and hang out here before they go to the mosque. Hopefully this Ramadan we’ll have an iftar dinner right here,” said Fadumo Ibrahim the Cedar’s Somali Community Liaison.
Ibrahim’s job didn’t exist three years ago. Her role as a Somali Community Liaison started with the Midnimo Project, which aims to bring Somali artists from around the world to the Cedar. “Midnimo” is the Somali word for “unity.” The project received a grant of $200,000 to promote understanding and awareness of Somali culture through music and the performing arts. So far, the Cedar has brought Maryan Mursal, often called “the Beyoncé of Somalia,” and has reunited the Dur Dur band, who hadn’t played together on the same stage for over 20 years. The Midnimo Project aims to bring Somali people to the Cedar who otherwise would not go by bringing in famous Somali Artists who are known of and admired by many in the community. The Community Plaza is another effort to bring Somali people to the Cedar.
The Community Plaza will also be the new home of the Triple C Coffee Cart, a youth-led enterprise hosted by the Brian Coyle Center.
Molly Reichert, a designer who works with the Brian Coyle Center youth, designed and built the Cedar coffee scape. She said the design process was all about “picking design shreds with the youth, they helped and gave input on the design.” The coffee cart also pulls design elements from the Somali danto pattern.
“The goal of this space is to keep the youth active. To insure that they get involved in community. We are working with the youth of the Brian Coyle Center with Triple C coffee cart. Triple C is usually inside the Brian Coyle Center. Since we had this patio we wanted them here and Molly worked with the youth to create the benches. It’s more about getting the youth and the elders in this open space so we can close that generation gap,” said Ibrahim.
Abdirazak ‘Sisco’ Omar, one of the managers of the Triple C coffee cart said, “Triple C stands for coffee, community and connection. The coffee cart gives the youth an opportunity to work in the summer. It’s an internship that will give them work experience. Today we’re introducing our coffee shop to the community, so we’re giving away free samples, but we’ll have a full menu in June.”
The grand opening of the Community Plaza had performances from Alma Andina, a Latino band, Somali traditional dance called Danto performed by the students of the Somali Museum and spoken word performances by the youth from Brian Coyle. These performances drew in a very diverse group of people: the Somali elders and youth from the Riverside Plaza and the young adults from the nearby universities and colleges. The traditional Somali dance was something that the elders could relate to and make them feel like the space is theirs as well.
Matias Levin, a band member of Alma Andina, said, “We’ve played with Muhammad Alta before. It was the first time we worked with a Somali artist. It was a really cool and interesting experience. It was fun to make new music and learn new things. I think the plaza will continue to introduce different cultural sounds to the community. I hope people recognize how special that is.”