The Women of Lake Street

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Groundbreaking on Lake Street is occurring on more levels than meet the eye. Besides undergoing renewal for the first time in more than 40 years, it’s inspiring renewal in the way history is learned. An exhibit revealing women politicians, activists and artists changing the face of Lake Street is opening Dec. 10 at the Blue Moon Coffee Cafe, Minneapolis.

The Minnesota Historical Society and Macalester College is engaged in a one and a half year collaborative partnership to design and display small-scale community history projects along Lake Street. MHS’s Senior Exhibit Developer Benjamin Filene said the project comes out of a shared desire of MHS and Paul Schadewald of Macalester’s Community Service Office to connect to the communities in which they’re based. The dramatic changes Lake Street is undergoing make it an ideal area for the project to cover.

There are currently six classes involved with this project: Julia Hess’ anthropology class on globalization; Michael Griffin’s course on documentary film; Adrienne Christiansen’s class on women and politics; Paul Solon, Peter Rachleff, and Lynn Hudson’s class on global and local history; Beth Cleary and Judith Howard’s introduction to performance studies; and David Itzkowitz and Peter Weisensel’s senior seminar in history.

The first project is “Women Politicians, Activists, and Artists on Lake Street,” being completed by Adrienne Christiansen’s class on “Women in Politics.” For this project, Christiansen assigned the students to profile one woman politician, activist or artist on Lake Street they view as shaping the community. Students collected their subject’s oral history, news and photographs for a paper to be featured on a Macalester website and an month-long exhibit at the Blue Moon Coffee Café, then possibly at the Old Arizona Theater, and ultimately at the History Center. Their exhibits will be featured there with other elements of the multi-part project involving six Macalester such as documentary films, footage of Lake Street related dance and theater performances, and an exhibit project focusing on merchants and entrepreneurs of Mercado Central.

Student Jessie Hasken said students were instructed by Christiansen to take a bus down Lake Street, get off at a place that looked interesting, dig around and find a woman they were interested in profiling. Jessie Hasken went to the Reuse Center, where she learned of four-term at-large Park Board Commissioner Annie Young and her work as founder and the first program coordinator of the Green Institute, an environmentally friendly business incubator. Hasken was intrigued with Young’s vision that “extended far beyond the Green Institute.” The Garbage Transfer site became the location of the Phillips Eco-Enterprise Center, a result of Young’s work with the Green Institute it houses. Hasken said of the student project, “There are times it goes so well and you’re so excited; sometimes you hit a wall. It’s hard to change gears from writing academic papers and writing for a broader audience.” She said she’s gained greater appreciation for people who compile historic works as a result of the project.

Other women profiled by Christiansen’s students are: Representative Karen Clark and Senator Linda Berglin, both serving the Lake Street area district; Joan Vanhalla, a community activist; Teresa Ortiz, director of Worker’s Rights Center located in the Resource Center of the Americas; Rosita Balch, community outreach coordinator of the Resource Center of the Americas; Theresa Nelson, Midtown Greenway Project artistic director; Marie Braun, who works with Women against Military Madness and organized the Lake Street Bridge protest vigils occurring weekly since the Iraq sanctions; Brigid McDonald, CSJ, an “extraordinary” peace activist with The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet; Darcy Knight, who founded Old Arizona Theater; Wendy Knox, founder/director of Frank Theater, producing site-specific plays; and Sandy Spieler, director of In the Heart of the Beast Theater.

Christiansen is transformed by the project herself. “I live three blocks off of Lake Street. It’s amazing to see my own community transformed, to see the power and potential of humans to bring life and renewal to an area that’s experienced urban decay. I see lots of hope. It was run down and decrepid. I see it with new eyes.” She said Lake Street is blooming. She noted that Lake Street is not undergoing a gentrified sort of urban renewal such as Grand Avenue in St. Paul, where it’s mostly “upscale boutiques and chain stores.”

She added, “Lake Str

et is not corporatized. There’s an earthiness to it, and democracy with a small “d” is taking place there, from the vibrancy of the bridge protests where not only are there protesters, there are people protesting the protesters. It’s democracy in action.” She also appreciates that the mosaic on the building of Resource Center of the Americas depicting immigrants’ experiences in a real, not whitewashed way.

She added he sheer number of ethnic restaurants including Japanese and Mexican restaurants, and an Ethiopian grocery among others, are indicative of the burgeoning cultural diaspora on Lake Street. “Food is a way of depicting cultures. Breaking bread together is a human need.” She said the Blue Moon Coffee Café hosting the students’ exhibits has been wonderful. Coffee from a Rwandan Women’s Coffee Collective, is being served at the student exhibit opening on December 10.

As a feminist Christiansen said she has always paid attention to women politicians in Minnesota, but her perspective on women who shape change has broadened due to this project. “I’ve come away with a deep appreciation for the history and the role of women and the transformation of Lake Street.” ||

The exhibit opens at the Blue Moon Coffee Café December 10 with a reception from 7:30 – 10 p.m. when the public can meet the students and the women they profiled who they will introduce at the reception.

Also on Dec. 10, Patrick’s Cabaret is hosting a public performance from 1 – 3 p.m. another part of the project.

The “Women in Politics” student papers will be featured online within the next week at: Macalester.edu/LakeStreetWomen.
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