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The New Green Line: An Arts and Culture Catalyst

The New Green Line: An Arts and Culture Catalyst

The opening of the Green Line light rail this summer will not only inaugurate a long-awaited transportation corridor for St. Paul and Minneapolis but also foster cultural hotspots along the corridor showcasing local diversity, bringing communities closer together and boosting economic opportunities.

The rail line’s 11-mile route along the Central Corridor from downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis travels through some of the region’s most distinct cultural districts including:

1. Little Mekong, home to many Southeast Asian immigrants and businesses (Western Avenue Station).

2. Rondo, St. Paul’s traditional African-American hub (Victoria Street Station).

3. Little Africa, a growing cluster of immigrant businesses (Snelling Avenue Station).

4. The Creative Enterprise Zone, the new name for a longstanding community of artists and artisans (Raymond Avenue and Westgate stations).

5. Prospect Park, a neighborhood between St. Paul and the University’s Minneapolis campus that hosts many student, faculty and cultural institutions such as the Textile Center (Prospect Park Station).

6. The West Bank, another campus neighborhood known for its theater, live music, unique restaurants and large Somali population (West Bank Station).

“Each of these districts represents a part of the richness of the Twin Cities,” says Kathy Mouacheupao, Cultural Corridor Coordinator for the Local Initiative Support Corporation-Twin Cities (LISC). “We know that arts and culture connects people, so we want to maximize the opportunity of the light rail for strengthening culture in these neighborhoods in order to leverage economic development.”

That’s the mission of LISC’s Central Corridor as a Cultural Corridor (C4) Program: to help community groups conceive and carry out cultural projects highlighting their unique assets as well as creating locally owned businesses and job opportunities for neighborhood residents.

“There’s a tension around gentrification in the Central Corridor,” Mouacheupao explains. “We are interested in doing work with a community, not to a community. We believe in supporting the artistic identity of the people living there, not moving in a bunch of hipsters and moving everyone else out.”

Lisa Tabor, who founded Culture Brokers to promote cultural inclusivity and is involved with the African-American Leadership Forum, says, “It’s an important and sophisticated way of thinking to invest in people at the same time you are investing in transit so residents don’t have to leave.”

The C4 program supports six community-led organizations along the Green Line with training, technical assistance and direct grants for planning and implementing programs as well as crafting a joint strategy to draw attention to the cultural assets found along the corridor as a whole.

Here’s what the C4-funded groups are working on:

Asian Economic Development Organization (AEDA): Little Mekong is already a center of Southeast Asian culture in St. Paul with restaurants, groceries, non-profit organizations and a large immigrant population. AEDA has big plans to add regular arts events, a traditional Asian Night Market, a public plaza, new housing, aesthetic and pedestrian improvements and a Pan Asian Cultural Center featuring a theater for the Mu Performing Arts company.

Rondo Arts and Culture Heritage Business District: The construction of I-94 ripped out the commercial center of Rondo, St. Paul’s African-American cultural hub, but it did not kill the community’s spirit. An inspiring initiative from the Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Business Corporation seeks to regenerate an economically vital business district that will showcase African- American culture for the entire region.

African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS-MN): African immigrants have opened 20 restaurants, shops and other businesses in the area around Snelling Avenue and University Avenue in St. Paul. C4 has given a planning grant to AEDS for cultural events to stimulate more businesses and customers. AEDS director Gene Gelgelu states, “Our interest is to revitalize the area with entrepreneurship and economic development. Everyone will be able to taste and smell and see and hear and feel Africa.”

Creative Enterprise Zone: This district straddling University Avenue on the West edge of St. Paul is already thriving with artists, graphic designers, potters, architects, toymakers, costume designers, artisans and unique light industrial businesses such as Midwest Floating Island, which recycles used carpets into habitat for marine animals in ecological restoration projects as far away as New Zealand. St. Anthony Park Community Council launched the Creative Enterprise Zone Action Team to better connect artists and artisans with one another so they can discover opportunities for sharing space, trading ideas, pursuing opportunities together and generally looking out for one another as rents in the neighborhood likely rise.

Prospect Park 2020: This group’s ambitious plans to turn a straggling industrial district on the north side of Prospect Park Station into a pioneer of sustainable 21st Century living includes a strong emphasis on the arts, crafts and design.

West Bank Business Association: The West Bank’s business association is accentuating the West Bank’s image as an arts center through stronger marketing and adding more visual arts to its plentiful music and theater offerings.

“Our vision is that people all over the region will think of riding the Green Line for fun, stopping to see all that’s going on around these stations,” says C4’s Kathy Mouacheupao. Dining in Little Mekong, enjoying the lively street life and cafes of Rondo, shopping for gifts in Little Africa’s shops and artisans’ studios in the Creative Enterprise Zone, touring the Textile Center and Surly Brewing Company in Prospect Park, seeing a play or music show on the West Bank.

Jay Walljasper writes, speaks and consults about urban and community issues. His website is Original posting can be found here.

Posted in: Company News, Little Africa of Minnesota

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Little Africa campaign launched in St. Paul, Minnesota

By Justyna Smela Wolski, TC Daily Planet
November 16, 2013

Cultural dance by India Jamal

Snelling Café hosted the presentation of the Little Africa campaign on November 14, a marketing and branding campaign that is part of the World Cultural Heritage District along University Avenue in St. Paul. The campaign is a project of African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS) of Minnesota. The celebration focused on values of entrepreneurship and was a “marketing and branding campaign to bring visibility the more than $1.4 billion African Immigrant economy of Minnesota.” According to Gene Gelgelu, the Executive Director of AEDS, the project includes 28 businesses which created “at least 100 jobs” producing a big “impact on immigrant communities”. The mission of AEDS is to “build wealth within African communities. AEDS provide business training, small business-coaching, access to loans and financial literacy”, said Teshite Wako, CFO of Neighborhood Development Center. The goal is also to be “visible and get recognized” as “our voices count, and also our resources count.”

Supreme Court Justice Wilhelmina M. Wright was an honored guest and spoke at the event. Expressing her satisfaction in being part of the “diversity of African culture,” Justice Wright said: “It is wonderful to celebrate to your civic engagement and all of the values that go along with it. (…) These values include patriotism, both pride in America and pride in our countries of origin. The value of civic engagement and participation (…) the value of capitalism, that is truly the American way, and I see it so embraced, I smell it in the food that is so wonderfully prepared for us to consume and I see in the commitment to moving our communities forwards, working hard.” Thankfulness for the U.S. economic system was also highlighted afterward by the entrepreneurs Afeworki Bein, owner of Snelling Café, and Teshome Belayeneh, owner of Rebecca’s Bakery.

Little Africa’s celebration included numerous partners and their representatives: Hassan Hussein, Oromo Community of Minnesota; Lemlen Kebede, Ethiopian Community of Minnesota; Michael Fondungullah, Cameroonian Community; Ghas Mends, Sierra Leone Community in Minnesota; and Dr. Kenny Odusote, Minnesota Institute for Nigerian Development. Some of the speakers compared the situation of African diaspora to other communities. This was the case of Fondungullah who expressed his conviction in relocating African businesses along the Corridor to gain visibility “as the Hmongs” have done.

Paige Joostens, a student at Concordia University, another partner of Little Africa, presented the “Survey on College Students and Ethnic Markets.” The research, based on the purchase power of college students and their consumption of ethnic food, showed that, in case of delivery, “ease of ordering, punctuality, transparency of cost, quality of food and temperature” were all above average and there were no complaints about the services provided. She also suggested improvements in meeting college student’s needs, such as their potential desite to study in the restaurants.

Little Africa also presented the launch of their Free Library, to which Justice Wright provided DVDs from the Minnesotan Judicial branch, “Going to court in Minnesota” in English and African languages, and a guide about the same topic, although only in English. Little Africa was a total African experience of pride, call to action and culture, completed by African snacks from Snelling Café and a dance show by India Jamal.

This is one of a number of articles produced by student interns at the TC Daily Planet.

Related story:

Little Africa cultural district launched in St. Paul (Eric Blom, TC Daily Planet, 2012)

Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Funders Collaborative.

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