“The future of the North Side is in the hands of the youth,” said Jeremiah Ellison, Minneapolis city councilman, at the grand opening of the 4,600-square-foot Juxtaposition Arts (JXTA) skate-able art plaza in mid-June. And now, the future is also on their skateboards.
The new skate park activates a space that might otherwise have been an empty lot at West Broadway and Emerson Avenues in North Minneapolis, according to Roger Cummings, JXTA’s chief cultural producer and co-founder. “When you go to a plaza, it often has those pieces of metal so people can’t skate on the furniture,” he says. “We wanted to flip that … and make those pieces of furniture skate-able.”
The grand opening’s festivities were joyful, with vibrantly colored balloons bobbing in the wind and ’70s funk playing over the speakers. Students of JXTA, a youth-oriented visual arts nonprofit, wandered through the crowd with trays of bubbles to “bless the plaza with bubbles.” The versatile and wheels-friendly space features four skateboard jumps, accompanied by an 840-foot mural created by Bronx-based graffiti artists Tats Cru, titled Icons of North Minneapolis.
The bright purple, green, and yellow mural features a portrait of Prince, who grew up in the neighborhood; bike racks used for break-dancing; and a spoon holding the “Heart of North Minneapolis,” a twist on the iconic “Spoonbridge and Cherry” sculpture in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. “We were looking at the creative economy that is North Minneapolis,” says Cummings.
The space’s sense of inclusion was palpable as an experienced member of City of Skate—a Minneapolis coalition of skaters, parents, and allies who advocate for and build skate parks throughout the Twin Cities—showed a younger skater how to position his board on the curb.
True to the spirit of JXTA, the art plaza’s year-plus development was the latest in the organization’s many community-led partnerships. City of Skate was a key collaborator on the plaza, along with JXTA youth designers, University of Minnesota landscape students, the West Broadway Business and Area Coalition, and the City of Minneapolis. A total of $224,000 in funds came from a JXTA Kickstarter campaign plus support from the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee and the National Endowment for the Arts.
“We are gathered in the spirit of diverse, creative activities,” proclaimed plaza project donor Beverly Cottman to the crowd. “We are gathered, each with our own, self-determined identity, to pour libation over our community.”
Combining arts education with youth empowerment, JXTA has expanded its mission, reach, and facilities since Roger and DeAnna Cummings and Peyton Russell founded the nonprofit in the mid-’90s. Since then, the organization has received numerous accolades, such as a 2013 Bush Prize for community innovation and multiple nominations for Minnesota Business magazine’s Community Impact Award.
Situated in the heart of North Minneapolis, the lot on the corner of West Broadway and Emerson was once in limbo. In 2018, JXTA needed to tear down an old, unstable building—part of the organization’s home since 2004—to make space for their new art instruction labs. A $1.3 million McKnight Foundation grant has provided most of the $2 million raised for the project, toward a goal of $4 million by the end of 2019. (Additional donor gifts kick in if that goal is reached.) It’s part of a four-year, $14 million campaign to build the next JXTA headquarters. During the fundraising process, JXTA still wanted a space for youth to celebrate art and culture. And it came with a twist—a skate-able twist.
Initially, the plaza was envisioned as a functional, temporary placeholder until JXTA’s new, state-of-the-art building was built. But it might stick around, based upon Twin Cities skateboarders’ immediate embrace of the sustainably designed space. To prevent flooding—a recurring issue in paved urban spaces—a rain garden circles the plaza, providing a green space for water runoff. Trash and recycling bins proclaim “Clean Green Northside.”
During their collaborative design process, JXTA’s team will take into account the plaza’s popularity and determine whether it will become a permanent fixture. JXTA projects that the final designs for the new building will be unveiled in 2020. The new facilities will include state-of-the-art labs, with an emphasis on prototyping and producing the students’ various art projects. It will also host several art galleries, a program and production space, and an anchor business tenant, retail or otherwise.
With more space, the goal is to continue mentoring North Minneapolis youth—who have included a young Jeremiah Ellison; Houston White, founder of the HWMR clothing brand; Catiesha Pierson, who produces cold press juice as the Dripping Root; and about 3,000 others so far—while cultivating their passion for art, preparing them for the workforce, and giving them opportunities to enhance their neighborhood.
In 2018 alone, JXTA impacted some 1,600 youth. And their efforts pay off; JXTA states that 99% of youth who participate in any of JXTA’s programs for two or more years graduate from high school, in comparison to the 70% graduation rate in Minneapolis.
“We believe the integrative problem-solving abilities learned through the hands-on creative process of taking a project from concept to production to market are exactly the skills young people need to succeed in school, in work, and in life,” a statement reads on JXTA’s site.
Youth ages 12-21 can begin with a free training program called Visual Art Literacy Training (VALT). Then, students can build their confidence and competence as artists through JXTA’s diverse range of paid apprenticeship programs, working alongside professional artists for real-world clients. Programs include graphic design, textiles, screen-printing, public art, environmental design, contemporary art, and tactical urbanism.
JXTA has partnered with the University of Minnesota’s College of Design and the Department of Landscape since 2004 to design and create numerous public works. When Minneapolis hosted NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four this past April, JXTA students helped design event marketing materials, custom backboards for each of the four teams, and a mural in the renovated North Commons Recreation Center.
In August, JXTA’s main gallery featured an exhibit called NORTHSIDE: An Oral History Publication and Installation by visual storyteller Nancy Musinguzi in partnership with JXTA apprentices. Using multimedia oral history, it highlighted the importance of art as a catalyst for change and growth within the community.
At the conclusion of the skate park’s opening ceremony back in June, everyone on wheels rolled down the curb together, a symbol of unity around this new neighborhood addition. Not only does the plaza provide a new gathering space, it also represents the innovation, creativity, and empowerment that JXTA will bring to North Minneapolis for years to come.
“We envision that the new building will be a space that is bright, open, and that lets passersby in on what we do at JXTA,” explains Gabby Coll, JXTA’s communications manager. “It will be a 21st-century space that embodies the flavor, dopeness, and sensibilities of the neighborhood and community that surrounds us.”
As a local nonprofit, Juxtaposition Arts depends on contributions to underwrite the costs of their classes, apprenticeships, and supplies. To learn more, volunteer, or donate, visit juxtapositionarts.org