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True colors

There are more colors than maroon and gold

By Adam Overland

Jordan Hamilton 165
Artist Jordan Hamilton leads children of the West Bank's Cedar-Riverside neighborhood in a West Bank Beautification project.

October 5, 2010

It's a gray day in the West Bank's Cedar-Riverside neighborhood as far as Mother Nature is concerned. But while the sun is doing nothing to cast colors in a favorable light, the colors here are so vivid that they're shouting back all the same.

A walk down Cedar Avenue makes clear this is a neighborhood brimming with arts and culture, new immigrants, and long-time residents. The neighborhood boasts the largest community of immigrants in the Twin Cities, many East African. Cedar-Riverside has a long history of ethnic and cultural diversity. In the 1890s it was home to Scandinavian immigrants who came here to work in milling and lumber industries on the Mississippi River. Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, it became an enclave for artists, musicians, intellectuals, and activists, adding to the neighborhood’s distinctive flair.

Today, the Red Sea restaurant, a long time fixture in the neighborhood, and which specializes in East African cuisine, is abuzz with excited children spray-painting a mural on their outside wall. The kids are directed by artists hired by the Brian Coyle Center.

Two artists here have sketched out a rough drawing for the dozen or so children who are armed and ready with paint cans. Young girls in colorful garb, many wearing the traditional hijab common among Muslim women, are careful not to add any uninvited color to their clothing; boys, less so.

Jordan Hamilton, one of the artists who has been working with the children on the project, says it is deeper than a splash of surface color on the walls.

"The whole process includes the youth who are involved. So from the very beginning, when we have a discussion leading up to doing the murals, youth are involved in the brainstorming sessions. And we'll talk about what's going on in their community and what the issues may be, and what the possible solutions are," says Hamilton.

A bridge from Minneapolis
Red Sea mural 165From left to right, the mural shows people, mostly ethnic minorities, gathered under the skyline of Minneapolis, a deep blue river surrounded by thick trees, and the Red Sea. Hamilton says the mural is meant to be a bridge between Minneapolis, the U.S., and East African communities; the fact that it could be placed on the side of a restaurant with the name of the sea bordering East Africa is a happy stroke of fortune.

The mural is part of the West Bank Beautification Project, sponsored by the West Bank Community Coalition, which applied for and received a $10,000 grant through the U's Good Neighbor Fund. The fund was established in July 2007 with $1.5 million from the Minnesota Legislature designated for the residential and business communities affected by the U's TCF Bank Stadium. Since then, nearly $200,000 has been distributed for projects developed by neighborhood communities adjacent to the Twin Cities campus. Eight grants totaling $59,783 were awarded in 2010.

The beautification grant has also gone to plant neighborhood gardens and flowerbeds, and to paint everyday eyesores like utility boxes and other hotspots for graffiti. Public art is a proven deterrent to graffiti taggers, and that's a practical hope of this project, too.

Grants this year were awarded based on the theme of building pride in the neighborhoods surrounding the University. And that's the hope here. There are more colors in the world than maroon and gold; more sounds than the Minnesota Rouser. The U knows that. Its 50,000-plus diverse students preparing to better this world know that. The people here certainly know that. The University does not end with any wall or property line. Take a drive down Cedar and Riverside and you'll know it too.

The Good Neighbor Fund is administered through University Relations, department of community relations. For more information, see Good Neighbor Fund.