5 Questions with Artist and 2015 Creative City Challenge Winner, Jon Reynolds

The 2015 Creative City Challenge winner, mini_polis is an immersive multimedia installation located on the lawn of the Convention Center. The mini model of Minneapolis debuted at Northern Spark this past weekend and will be on display throughout the summer. Artist Jon Reynolds collaborated with a team of designers, architects, and makers to bring the cityscape to life. The piece was completed through a series of “build workshops” incorporating community participation. Visitors can interact with an arcade-inspired machine to illuminate various buildings and play recordings of memories tied to each space.

1. What made you decide to enter the Creative City Challenge?

Our team was really excited about the new emphasis on public participation for the Creative City Challenge this year. Niko, Micah, and I are all passionate about creating opportunities for people to make stuff and collaborate on public art, so this new focus was a natural fit. Niko sparked the basic idea and then we all contributed to the evolution of the project design and implementation.

2. What type or artistic or architectural background do you have?

We are primarily a group of self-taught artists and makers. Niko has a degree in architecture and works for LSE Architects, so he is the only bonafide team member! Two years ago, Niko and I collaborated on a project called Meteata Cart, which was a mobile foosball table and Ethiopian tea service built into a bike cart. That project through Springboard for the Art’s Irrigate program really kickstarted our collaboration, and our team has evolved from there. I’ve since collaborated on several other public art projects around the cities and am really grateful our city supports this kind of public art.

3. When you aren’t working on mini_polis, what are you doing?

A significant portion of my week is spent working for an amazing nonprofit called Outward Bound. I’m also rehabbing an old 4-plx in Saint Paul and planning a wedding for later this summer. As I mentioned, Niko is an architect by trade and spends most of his days designing actual life-sized buildings like libraries and schools. Micah keeps busy as the founder of Nordeast Makers, which is like a gym for makers in Northeast Minneapolis. We are all pushing our creative bandwidth to the limits of sanity.

4. How was the process of working with community participants in the “build workshops”?

It was absolutely the most fun part of this project. We all learned a lot and it was energizing to see people volunteer their energy to help us build this project. In total, we had over 150 people from literally across the country (mostly from Minneapolis). We partnered with the Native American Community Development Institute, and learned that “Minneapolis” comes from the Dakota word “Mni” which roughly translates to “City by Water.” So we learned some pretty basic things about the history of this land. We also did a workshop at Riverside Plaza—those massive cement structures in the West Bank of Minneapolis. The middle schoolers’ perspectives totally contrasted my assumptions about what it’s like to live there; namely, most of them love it! So we learned again how the perspectives from people within the community are often very different than those who pass by.

5. What feelings and emotions do you want the work to evoke?

One of our biggest goals as a team is to incite conversations and curiosity for people of all ages. We invited them to sign their names on the giant letters that spell “mini_polis” and talked about how art can bring people together. It was pretty neat to witness that because it captures some of what we hoped for—that people would take pride in their city, and be inspired to dream about how they can contribute to building their dreams for their neighborhood or home.

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