During the summer of 2012, the Cleveland Neighborhood Association staff and board began to utilize some of the great tools provided by an organization called Civic Center to engage residents in conversations about their community. We hosted a community gathering in the Cleveland Neighborhood with the theme, “I Want _____ in my neighborhood.” We continued using the stickers and asking the question at our Live on the Drive summer concerts and while out in the community during National Night Out, door knocking, Cleveland Park parties and more.
Then, last fall, we had the opportunity to collaborate with a couple students from the U of M design department and some northside residents to try another community engagement project originating from Civic Center. A large mural that provides chalk and asks residents about their hopes and dreams with the prompt: “Before I die I want to ____.” These murals have been successfully done all over the world, including in the Whittier neighborhood in south Minneapolis and with youth at Kulture Klub. We felt it was a great opportunity to turn a vacant lot into an interactive space for residents who often don’t have voice in the community to share with one another their hopes and dreams in a public space.
We received a permit from Hennepin County to install the mural on the empty lot at the North West corner of Penn and Lowry Avenue. We also received support from the Minneapolis Arts Commission, who gave the following reasons:
“The mural strongly engages the community and generates hopeful responses.
Candy Chang and this project are internationally recognized.
The Whittier neighborhood has had a positive experience with the same project.”
We asked several residents about the choice of wording before deciding to keep the identical language to the international project, recognizing that it had some chance for controversy, but that the provocative nature of the question is part of what made it a successful project.
Our goal with this project was to engage the diverse residents that we serve in our community. We feel we’re accomplishing that, but did not realize it would also offend many others. Our ongoing commitment is to engage the residents of the Cleveland Neighborhood and the northside. We are willing to take risks and try innovative ways of doing that, but we realize we’re making mistakes along the way and learning as we go. We believe we will continue to learn from this experience and hope we can do far better in the future.
Clarifications about the Mural
Whose mural is it?
The Cleveland Neighborhood Association owns the mural. It was put up with support from some students and staff at the University of Minnesota. The concept for the mural is a part of an international series of Before I Die murals that originated with artist Candy Chang.
How often is there profanity?
There have been 13 instances of inappropriate language on the mural that the CNA staff is aware of, out of well over 200 total statements written. The most notable of those instances are ones that a resident took a picture of on December 22nd and has circulated widely on Facebook. Those statements were written sometime in the evening before and removed within 2 hours of the first facebook posting. While the circulation of this single image has given the impression that the board is frequently filled with vulgar language and profanity that has not been the case.
Does anyone monitor it?
Staff at the Cleveland Neighborhood Association monitors the mural multiple times a day. The chalk is removed when the spaces fill up or no one is able to monitor it in a 24 hour period. We recognize this is a public space and though the question elicits a variety of responses, we remove those that are unreadable or inappropriate for the space. We are not able to monitor the board 24/7 and do encourage residents to remove inappropriate language if they deem it necessary, but please do let us know so we can keep accurate and transparent documentation of the project overall.
What was with that hole in the mural?
On Sunday, January 20th, the panels of the mural came off during a windy day. We recognize this incident was due to a mistake in installation materials. We removed the panels from the sidewalk and left the frame standing as we discussed reinstalling the mural. We reinstalled the majority of the mural on January 29th. The mural had recently been featured in the February North News and we felt it was important to have it up as soon as possible. However, when reinstalling we realized one of the panels broken edge needed to be glued together to be properly replaced. That step took longer than expected and we replaced the missing panel section on February 13th. We recognize that many found the missing panel unsightly and we apologize for not fixing it sooner.
Isn’t the word “Die” inappropriate for our community?
We are aware of the unique implications the use of the word “die” has within our community were youth violence has caused tragedies in our families and communities. We recognize that this public display has appeared insensitive to some whose family has been personally affected by this violence in our community and for that we are sorry. Other young people and residents we’ve talked to have seen the choice of language as powerful for the same reason. We also recognize others see it as willingness to not skirt around language in an attempt at better community PR and still others disagree with that point. We are learning from all of this, we’ve made mistakes along the way, and we know that when this project is over we’ll look back and recognize how we could do it better.
Is this temporary?
Yes, this is a temporary installation. The permit we were given goes till June, but we hadn’t intended on keeping it up that long. It was never intended to be a permanent installation. Our plan has been to move, disassemble or repurpose the piece sometime in the next few weeks. That decision will be decided by the Cleveland Neighborhood Board. CNA has been actively involved in the possible future development of this corner for some time and we continue to support the eventual development of the Lowry-Penn intersection.