For jobs and arts: Arts District fights to preserve industrial land

On Friday, Nov. 13, the Minneapolis City Council voted against the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District’s interest for the property development on 2301 California St. NE. It was disheartening as the vote was 12 to 1 with only one council member (Lisa Goodman, who is not from Northeast) voting against the development.

Here lies truth
Here lies truth from 2301 California St protest

The fight has awakened a resolve to find multiple ways to accomplish the goal of preserving the Arts District. The fight has strengthened the Arts District’s relationship with neighborhood guardians and raised our profile to many city officials. We are not going to accept mediocre development and are willing and able to fight back.

Time after time, in Minneapolis as well as many cities throughout the U.S., artists move into the neighborhood, revitalize it, only to have developers and city officials change the rules and push the artists out, whether or not that was their intent. In the early 2000s, through guidance of City Council Member Paul Ostrow, The Arts District was created as a permanent home for artists in Northeast Minneapolis because of its large number of vacant and underused industrial buildings.

In our capitalist society, the only way new, quality housing is made affordable is through massive subsidies. Currently, people and politicians are vilified if they oppose anything that is presented as “affordable.” It is obvious to us that the council does not have all the answers, yet it’s under pressure to produce miracles.

Stuck between existing zoning codes and guidance of the future 2040 Plan, the City Council is allowed to make it up as they go, but should they? We think not. Due diligence is an important part of any city plan. When a city council member does not reach out to talk to and listen to the organizations in their own ward, missed opportunities cause unnecessary misunderstandings and conflicts.

The recent fight is particularly disturbing because it had the false and counterproductive effect of painting Arts District defenders as opposing affordable housing. We do believe the families that the project purports to serve deserve better than the project proposes — it’s on industrial zoned polluted land, too close to a permitted industrial building with its noise, and lacks basic amenities for healthy families. We will continue to look for ways to convince whoever needs to be convinced, to make improvements.

How does Northeast Minneapolis Arts District define itself and the future of Northeast? The board sees the designated boundaries of the District as a campus that serves the region. This campus needs a variety of services, providers and structures in its ecosystem. Art is not looking for charity, art equals jobs.

Artists not only need places to work, they need metal shops, clay distributors, lumber yards, spaces with high ceilings, high voltage electrical, natural light, places to gather, eat and drink, etc. Just as the U of M needs book stores, bike shops, transportation options and food services, so does an arts district have its own needs to be economically and socially successful and sustainable. Whatever is added should enhance those values and meet those needs.

The Northeast Minneapolis Arts District embraces holistic solutions. We hold our city council members responsible for preserving the ability for the Arts District to meet its needs and benefit the entire region.

By Northeast Minneapolis Arts District Board