Seward Arts Festival keeps the focus hyperlocal


The 11th Annual Seward Arts Festival is different than a lot of the other arts festivals around the Twin Cities. Unlike other arts festivals—such as the Uptown Art Fair or Art-A-Whirl, which aim to attract many people from all over the metro area and even beyond—SAF mainly gears its programming to the Seward neighborhood and surrounding areas, according to Erik Riese, the lead organizer for the three day event held in the first weekend in October. “We’re not looking for people from Mounds to come in,” he said.

Originally, SAF was funded through the Seward Neighborhood Group (SNG) using NRP funding. Established in 1960, SNG is one of the oldest neighborhood organizations in Minneapolis. The annual arts festival grew out of SNG’s Seward Community Arts Network, a coalition of what now includes more than 250 artists (including everyone’s favorite photographer Wing Young Huie) as well as arts organizations such as the Playwrights’ Center, Northern Clay Center, the Movement Arts Center, Joan of Art Gallery, the Vine Arts Center, and Orfield Gallery.  

When SNG decided to fund artists in the Seward neighborhood, “the idea was to help neighbors who wanted to make art in their homes,” Riese said. Individuals were given small grants to fix up their studios or homes, which they would open up during the one-day festival for festivalgoers to visit. Individuals would receive funding in the range of $200 or $300 dollars for the first three or four years. 

The plan was to make the festival eventually become self-sustaining, which Riese says is close to happening but not quite there. Now individuals pay $30 to register, while businesses pay more. The participation has dropped this year from 30 or 40 businesses to only about a dozen.

Part of that, Riese said, was due to him not wanting to devote as much time to organizing it.  “Last year I spent a thousand hours on it. I was trying to keep my time to less that 200 hours this year, but I’m pretty close to that and there’s still ten days to go.” Riese said that he’d like to make at least ten dollars an hour. Money from the registration goes toward paying him, the printing of the map, and a small amount of money for the graphic designer and for the musicians who wouldn’t perform if they weren’t given some money.

Seward Neighborhood Group celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year and participants at the festival can look forward to an art car parade, an art crawl, live music, a poetry reading, theatre performances and other events. This year’s theme looks at Seward’s history. To that end there will be a Seward History committee presentation at Faith Mennonite Church on Saturday as well as a 50th birthday party on Sunday at the Eagles Club (featuring music by Papa John Kolstad and Spider John Koerner).

Events on Saturday include a pancake breakfast at Seward Church at 9 a.m., live acoustic Spanish guitar by Will King at Seward Coop on Saturday from 11-3, the art car parade at noon, live Jazz at the Birchwood Café from 2-5, a poetry reading at River Way Meditation Center at 2, and a performance by Seward Concert Band at Faith Mennonite Church at 4 p.m. The art crawl is on Sunday from noon-4. For a map of all the artists, see

In addition to the birthday party for SNG on Saturday, there will also be a benefit for the organization on Tuesday October 5 at the Eagles Club. The wine tasting will be hosted by Zipp’s Liquors.

And since you’re already in the neighborhood, you should take the opportunity to see Frank Theatre’s production of Eclipsed, by Danai Gurira, about five women during the civil war in Liberia, now playing at the Playwrights’ Center.

You can also stop by Bedlam Theatre‘s new temporary space in the Ivy Arts Building. They’ll be having an open house during the festival, volunteer days, and vision sessions. The company recently moved to Seward after being asked to leave their previous West Bank Location. Rumor has it they may also be putting on an impromptu performance or two some time during the festival.