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Art with Purpose: Juxtaposition + Kwanzaa Community Church + CURA = Art with Purpose

May 15, 2009

by Peggy Rader, University of Minnesota

Start with the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA), a center at the University that has been involved in Northside projects since 1968. Add Juxtaposition, a youth arts program founded on the Northside in 1996. Mix in the support of Kwanzaa Community Church, just up the street from Juxta’s space on Emerson Avenue North.

The result was a project that has used public space to promote awareness of HIV/AIDS, first with sidewalk art in 2008, and again in 2009 by creating art in Northside alleys that continued HIV/AIDS awareness promotion. The Sidewalks Saving Lives project was funded through the Neighborhood Partnership Initiative (NPI), a regranting program administered by CURA.

No one knew exactly how this particular NPI Grant would look like when completed.

Juxtaposition knew it wanted to do something that would involve art and youth and have a positive impact on the community. To figure out exactly what the project should be, it sponsored a party called the Great Idea Exchange and invited proposals from the community. At the party everyone was asked to vote on the submitted proposals and one submitted by the Rev. Alika Galloway of Kwanzaa Community Church was chosen.

“We wanted to do public art and do it with regular people and do it in just one day,” says Satoko Muratake, Juxta’s managing director, who, as a University graduate student, worked with Juxtaposition during an earlier grant from CURA. “That way the community would see the results right away.”

Rev. Galloway says the idea for the sidewalk art about HIV/AIDS awareness came to her in the shower. “I have a calling to HIV/AIDS ministry,” she explains. “The charter for our church was intentionally designed for community engagement. I had been doing a lot of research on how to engage the community in the issues around HIV/AIDS. And then in my mind it all came together and I saw sidewalks painted with HIV/AIDS messages.” 

After all, she said, “every urban center has sidewalks, artists, paint, and HIV/AIDS.”

The day of the sidewalk painting, 90 youth painters showed up, along with others from the community who wanted to join in. Ten sidewalk designs were completed amid a day including a design workshop, HIV-AIDS prevention education, and free food and condoms.

“Anyone who wanted to paint, we gave them brushes,” Rev. Galloway said.

“It was a great project,” said Muratake. “It taught the kids to respect public space, offered a sense of identity, and built mentorships. It wasn’t just something beautiful that was created, but something with a greater purpose.”

Kwanzaa saw this project as an initial step in a larger public health campaign to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS in North Minneapolis which has one of the highest per capita rates of HIV/AIDS infection in the U.S. Although African-Americans represent only 3.4% of Minnesota’s population, they account for 22% of the state’s adult and adolescent HIV infections.

Research assistance was sought from the Northside Seed Grant Program administered by CURA to examine how the arts can be used to develop a public health campaign to reduce HIV/Aids in North Minneapolis.

The Northside Seed Grant program started in 2007 at CURA in connection with the creation of the University Northside Partnership (UNP). The funding now comes through UROC but still administered by CURA.

Kwanzaa also received a subsequent Seed Grant to further investigate the relationship between untreated post traumatic stress syndrome and HIV/AIDS treatment. The research helped develop a set of guidelines and advocacy goals to make mental health treatment a part of both HIV prevention and post diagnosis treatment programs. 

“There’s no way we could have done this without the U,” Rev. Galloway said. “It was the stabilizer that held us all together. The U is a community catalyst. It has many resources, like the Seed Grants, but having UROC here now is like a giant treasure chest in the community.”

An important aspect of the Seed Grants, said Nelson, who manages the program for CURA, is that its structure helps to develop a stronger relationship between the community and the University. By providing $1,500 to pay for a faculty consultant and $1,500 to pay for a community coordinator, plus $1000 for research expenses, the grants guarantee that both the community organization and the University have the opportunity to really get involved with one another.

Projects such as the sidewalk art for HIV/AIDS awareness also allow students and faculty at the U to evaluate the effectiveness of such a project. That information informs research at the U and, more importantly, provides documentation that community organizations need to get further funding from other sources. That’s another important aspect of the grants: building capacity within community organizations to grow and thrive.

This wasn’t Juxta’s first University grant. In 2003, CURA funded the organization’s work to rethink its strategic plan and to determine the most feasible use for the building it owned on Emerson. By working with a graduate student at the U (Muratake), Juxta made decisions that have helped it survive in a challenging economy for the arts.