Star-Tribune theater critic Rohan Preston termed it a “polite” conversation, and indeed it was. Mayoral candidates gathered at the Ritz Theater Oct. 17 to discuss the importance and future of the arts in Minneapolis. Approximately 70 people attended. For a full-length video of the event by The Uptake, go to http://theuptake.org/2017/10/17/future-of-minneapolis-arts-mayoral-candidates-forum/
Ray Dehn, Jacob Frey, Tom Hoch, incumbent Betsy Hodges, and Nekima Levy-Pounds prepared to answer questions, waiting 20 minutes for Aswar Rahman to slide into his seat at the last minute; Al Flowers was invited but did not attend. Each of the candidates told why they are running for mayor, and about their personal connection to the arts. Then Preston began posing questions supplied by the leaders of the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District (Northeast A.D.).
Within the arts district, affordable arts work space is a top priority. How would you balance the push for density with keeping work space affordable in Minneapolis?
Frey: The topics of density and preserving work space are not mutually exclusive. In the Third Ward, we’ve built on surface parking lots, Superfund sites, polluted areas and places that would not affect current art space. That takes some of the pressure off the work spaces.
Hoch: We need some specific financing tools that are available to artists, low-interest loans, loans that can be forgiven, or a change in tax structure for properties that are used by artists for work space. We need to make sure there is enough money flowing to artists so they have options about where they want to do their work.
Hodges: Let’s do a land trust for commercial properties the way we do land trusts for housing properties so they can remain affordable over time.
Levy-Pounds: We don’t have art expertise at City Hall. We don’t focus on our arts economy, our cultural economy.
Rahman: Zoning needs to change.
Dehn: Artists have ideas. They need to be at the table when we’re talking about re-zoning so that commercial space stays reasonably priced. It might mean rent stabilization for some commercial properties.
There are cultural corridors developing across the city. How can the city leverage arts districts to help them reach their fullest potential?
Hoch: I worked on the cultural district plan on Hennepin Avenue. There are 57 arts organizations on Hennepin from the Walker Art Center to the Mississippi riverfront. When you bring it all together, you can name it, map it, [encourage people to visit] and walk the area.
Hodges: Our cultural corridors are the best way to showcase the best of Minneapolis. We have a business technical advisory program (BTAP) and a cooperative advisory program and we can connect the creative economy. A part of our tourism master plan is to highlight these cultural corridors.
Levy-Pounds: We too often allow developers to drive what’s happening in the city, whether it’s residential or commercial space. We need to put people over profits.
Rahman: [The arts] have been a big economic generator for Minneapolis. But we need to address inequalities. MCTC is an example. Every year, 1,700 students apply for the school, 1,500 are turned down. They could have gone into MCTC’s photography course, the fine arts program. The elements of our creative economy are not being strengthened. Our city has a 40 percent minority population. Young people need to be encouraged to get into the creative industry.
Dehn: The Arts District wasn’t created by the city. It was created by the artists, the businesses. The city can assist, but the people in the cultural corridors should be the ones driving the conversation.
Frey: The city needs to get out of the way. If you were to go to an art opening in Paris, the artist would come down from his second-story flat, throw down a card table, put a little stereo on it, maybe a bottle of wine, throw some art up on the wall and make enough money to pay his rent. In Minneapolis, you’d need a liquor license, a sound permit, and a sign variance. By the time you finished your art opening, you’d have been tagged more money than you’ve made and you don’t make the rent.
This district was established under the aegis of the city’s 2003 action plan, and there is another action plan being developed. What ways would you suggest to develop the arts in Minneapolis?
Hodges: The Creative City Making project pairs artists with various departments of the city; they’re embedded in the work we’re doing.
Levy-Pounds: If you ask the average artist if they felt included at City Hall, they would say no. We are literally sitting on a gold mine in terms of what’s happening in the arts. We’re the fifth most culturally vital area in the country. This has been done through the hard work of individuals, not high levels of city investment. This is one of the industries that is actually growing. St. Paul’s STAR program takes 50 percent of the sales tax revenue and allows neighborhoods and community businesses to apply for funding. Sixty percent of the funds go toward loans and 40 percent toward grants.
Rahman: There’s a tendency to treat arts as though it is a garnish on the city. We bring it in for ideas, then move it aside and get on with other business. Treat the arts as a genuine investment, as a good use for public resources.
Dehn: The role of the city should be as facilitator, and making sure all voices are heard.
Frey: We need to be highlighting not just beer tours, but arts tours in south Minneapolis and in the Arts District here.
Hoch: The best way to lead a planning process is to have artists lead it. The planning process is a creative process and we need to have the best creatives leading it to get the most robust ideas. Listen to the artists, have them at the table, follow their lead.
Northeast Minneapolis Arts District was officially designated by the city. The area extends from Broadway Street NE to 26th Avenue NE, Central Avenue to the Mississippi River. Northeast A.D. is a non-profit organization separate from the city.