Bridging the Rift

Made Here: Connecting the community with its downtown

Photos by Katie Dougherty

Photos by Katie Dougherty

“The amazing thing about this is exhibit is looking past the photos.” said Joan Vorderbruggen as we peered into the buildings of Block E.

Looking into the windows of the vacant buildings of Block E past the animated artwork is like taking a step back into its dreary past. Block E has a history that is shrouded in bad enigmas and quick turnovers with all the businesses that have tried to make it there and failed. It is typically a section of Minneapolis that many people avoid, making it a sort of disconnected black sheep in the family of blocks in the city. However, no matter how bad the past looks, it is never something that can be ignored.

Tom Hoch of the Hennepin Theatre Trust had a vision to bring this part of the community to life. Hoch’s connections with Block E stem deeper than the typical disconnected businessman as his memories of Block E stem from his childhood. Block E of the past had an “explicit, seedy feel” to its demeanor, said Hotch. Something had to be done to make the streets walkable and comfortable for the community while still maintaining the history and character of Block E.

“Block E has a history that is shrouded in bad enigmas and quick turnovers”

Hoch and colleagues proposed a streetscape plan with the goal to clean up and make the walk down Hennepin a more enjoyable experience. The plan was to add foliage, level sidewalks, and a clean space for the community to enjoy. This plan was paid by the owners of stores and consists of five blocks now known as the theater district. Although this was a great springboard to a new Hennepin, something was still missing.

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The Hennepin Theatre Trust sought another way to bring all of the pieces of Block E together and pour it back to the community. The HTT talked in-person to thousands of people to figure out how the community as a whole felt about this notorious neighborhood. The majority felt it was an uneven experience. The vacant shops that lined the block made it seem like a perishing piece of Minneapolis, which made pedestrians feel alone and isolated from the life of the city.

This is where the Made Here initiative comes into the picture. After an 18-month collaboration between the HTT, the Walker Art Center, and other art organizations, window-designer Joan Vorderbruggen was called upon to help the dream of Block E become a reality. As a woman with a big heart for the community (and an even bigger heart for her artists), she was the perfect candidate to resuscitate this neglected piece of Minneapolis.

“I wanted to do it in a way I knew how.” Vorderbruggen said.

And she did. Vorderbruggen heads “Artists in Storefronts,” another neighborhood project to display art to the public in a creative way. Bringing her core group of artists along with a panel of professional, bigger-name artists, Made Here was born behind the empty storefronts windows of Block E.

“This city is a river; we are all coming and going.”

The art that is displayed in Made Here varies drastically from shop window to shop window, ranging from representations of the desk of a conspiracy theorist to a mediation field. The artwork isn’t screaming out a political statement or the need for a revolution to its viewers, but this is exactly the image that Vorderbruggen wants for the block.

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“We all should be able to get the opportunity to see good art. It shouldn’t be just for the privileged. Seeing people that aren’t normally exposed to art finally get the chance to view it, that is my gasoline!” Vorderbruggen said.

The artwork is meant to connect the community with each other, not to cause a rift in the viewing public.  Having a piece of artwork that a child can relate to as well as an elderly man is the beauty of Made Here on Block E. The people that normally walk down Block E are ones that are waiting for the bus stop, merely coming and going to wherever life takes them.

“This city is a river; we are all coming and going.” Vorderbruggen said.

It seems that Made Here is indeed an effective way to connect the public with the heartbeat of Minneapolis. At every window there were a handful of viewers, along with some comments thrown in from the public. “That’s an interesting take on origami!” a man stated as he walked past the window of manipulated book artwork. It looks like Block E is finally transforming from a disdained, hungry caterpillar into an alluring butterfly.

Halfway through our tour of Made Here, a window of news articles stares back at us.

“I would not have done this project if we weren’t going to include the history of Block E somewhere in it.” Vorderbruggen said. “The past is what connects us to our future.”

So, why would anyone ignore the past, even if it is an ugly one? Block E has a history soaked in controversy, which is now on display in one of the windows of the vacant stores.