From its beginning, North Minneapolis has been a major gateway community. Since the 1880s it has sheltered Irish, Italian, Polish, and African American inhabitants as well as Jewish communities of German, Russian, Polish, Lithuanian, and Romanian origin. It was one of the few areas in Minneapolis where these immigrants were allowed to own homes and businesses, and its main thoroughfare, West Broadway, was one of the city’s most vibrant retail districts. However, social unrest during the civil rights era and the construction of Interstate 94 divided and threatened the neighborhood. Tragically, in 1966 the majority of businesses on Plymouth Avenue were destroyed during a series of riots.
This pattern of forcing immigrant communities to occupy one district often results in racial and ethnic violence that devastates good will and amity. However, there have always been people in this stubbornly vital community who have looked past their differences to form lasting friendships. It is these crucial alliances, sustained despite divergences in age, race, religion, and culture, that are the focus of Portraits of PEACE, a community-based photography and civic dialogue project conceived by Walker education and community programs staff as the primary artistic component of this year’s PEACE Games, an annual citywide athletic and artistic festival hosted by North Minneapolis in partnership with the PEACE Foundation and the Folwell Center for Urban Initiatives. Portraits of PEACE captures stories about the vital connections that sustain a neighborhood and create the basis for tolerance. The goal of this project is to mirror the qualities that enable a community to thrive despite poverty and the often turbulent cycles of urban decay and renewal.
Inspired by the photographic practices of Sharon Lockhart and Diane Arbus, this project is also based on the conviction that, while differences can lead to segregation and provoke aggression, diversity can also be the basis for sympathetic and lasting affiliations. To document existing friendships and inspire new connections, stations will be set up at PEACE Foundation–sponsored community events throughout the summer. Residents who have maintained relationships will then be invited to have their picture taken and stories recorded. Student participants will explore audio and visual portraiture with Walker community programs coordinator/teaching artist Megan Leafblad and Io Palmer, an artist currently working with the Folwell Center for Urban Initiatives on its North Side Stories project.
A panel of north side artists and youths will curate a small exhibition of 15 to 20 images. Their selections will be displayed along with transcriptions of the on-site interviews in the Walker’s Star Tribune Foundation Art Lab August 4 through 10 for the PEACE Games Celebration—an event welcoming thousands of young people to the Walker and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Portraits of PEACE will then tour Minneapolis Park & Recreation sites, PEACE Foundation Congregational Partners, and north side organizations and businesses.