The goal of the project was to transform the bridge into an attractive, valued gateway between the Seward and Longfellow neighborhoods and to artistically engage high school youth in an initiative to turn an eyesore in the community into a place of meaning and pride.
The group sought out a partnership with nearby Hiawatha Collegiate High School, which had already established an after-school public art club. In response to this mural opportunity, HCHS established what Jack Becker of 36th ART believes is the first high school-level public art class in the state. Under the leadership of teachers Derek Davidson and Bryan Daly, Dean of College and Community at HCHS, 15 students signed up for the class. 36th ART members sought Peyton Scott Russell and his SPRAYFiNGER® team to partner on the project and bring the mural to life.
Peyton, founder of SPRAYFiNGER®, is a pioneering teaching artist who has helped hundreds of youths to learn mural-making techniques and participate in the process. SPRAYFiNGER® artists Simone Alexa and Reggie LeFlore oversaw the bridge project and mentored the students on all aspects of ideation, design, execution, production, and installation.
“We are extremely grateful for this partnership with 36th ART. The creativity and collaboration at play is inspiring and it reminds our young people that they belong and that this community is ours together,” said HCHS Principal Nicole Cooley.
Through daily one-hour public art classes and a series of six three-hour workshops, 36th ART and SPRAYFiNGER® engaged HCHS students in the research and context of the bridge site, including the history of the neighborhood, its indigenous roots, and its local landmarks. Students decided on images of youth and elder generations, the Mississippi River, housing and architecture in the neighborhood, native plants, sunrise and sunset themes, poems, maps of the neighborhood, and the Brackett Park rocket sculpture. All images are compiled in a collage-like manner to create a story and overall theme of the neighborhood.
“We are hopeful this mural will positively engage all who pass by. The many elements of storytelling and themes to be found within these two murals will be discovered and rediscovered each time the mural is viewed,” stated SPRAYFiNGER®.
A community celebration and dedication of the mural was held on Saturday, Nov. 11 from 1-4 p.m. on the HCHS campus at 3500 E. 28th St., and within walking distance to the bridge.
"I am so impressed by the hard work you have put in over the months to make this vision a reality. Your leadership is improving our neighborhood in concrete ways and building relationships that will impact the city for years to come," said Ward 2 Council Member Robin Wonsley.
Funding came from Lake Street Council’s Placemaking & Vibrancy Grant program, Seward Neighborhood Group, Xcel Energy, TruStone Financial, the Longfellow Community Council, anonymous donors, and in-kind support from One Simple Plan.
“The kids were stars of the day and many people are now visioning just how they'd like the bridge to be finished," remarked Terry Barnes of 36th ART. "I think we've sparked 36th Ave. revitalization and transformation.”
"For me, one of the great things about the event was the bringing together of the school community and the two neighborhood residents who rarely share any activities together," said Becker. "It was a real bridging moment, and the start of a long term relationship that has tremendous potential!
"The mural turned out more intricate and beautiful than I could have imagined, especially given the two 80-foot artworks were designed, developed and completed within a month! The students’ ideas were brought to life in collaboration with Sprayfinger artists, who have a technique that encourages and inspires – even the most timid ones.
"I’m thrilled that teacher Derek Davidson plans to keep offering the public art class – the only one in a Minnesota high school! I plan to help raise more funds to allow us to finish transforming the bridge next year."
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