Category Archives: Twin Cities, MN

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” *

A recent issue of Access Press overflows with both information and reminders.  Front page information is that Stuart Holland who has managed the Minnesota Radio Talking Book Network since 1986 is retiring.  His retirement prompted the newspaper to published a great review of the RTB history written by Jan Willms.  It’s a good read and a good reminder.  http://www.accesspress.org/blog/2017/09/08/retirement-awaits-new-chapter-for-radio-talking-books-holland/

But don’t stop there, subscribe to Access Press online or pick up a free copy at a convenient newspaper rack.  AP is a timely and indispensable source of information about what’s happening in the disabilities community – a tool for anyone who has a disability or who is in a position to share the news with friends, family, patrons, the faith, academic or other community.  So many resources, so many opportunities to share the word!  Much more about the mission, content and programs of Access Press here: (http://www.accesspress.org)

“Feast” is the theme of Interact Visual Artists’  exhibit (https://interactcenter.org/artists/visual-arts/) open through October 8 at Birchwood Café in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis. (http://birchwoodcafe.com)  The exhibit explores the subject of food and the relations and perceptions of food and art.  Individual artists assume varying relationships with food by exploring different ethnic foods and approaching the issue in a variety of media and styles.

October 5 – Talk of the Stacks features journalist and food industry authority Larry Olmsted, 7:00 PM at the Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall.  Olmsted’s book, is entitled Real Food Fake Food: Why you don’t know what you’re eating and what you can do about it…. The event is free, doors open at 6:15; programs begins at 7:00 PM

October 12 – The City of Minneapolis is offering a class for group that are interested in creating a cooperative.  Sessions run October 12-December 7.    Details here:  http://webbercamden.org/2017/09/27/city-of-minneapolis-free-class-on-creating-a-cooperative/   To learn more about the history and present state of coops check this recent talk given by Tom Pierson at the Seward Coop –https://seward.coop/posts/1048

October 18 – The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) announces the Autumn Open House, 5:30 – 7:30 PM at the historic Crosby Mansion, 2105 First Avenue South.  RSVP by Friday, October 14 at iatp.org/open-house.  Speakers include IATP ED Juliette Major and Tara Ritter, Senior Program Association for Climate and Rural Communities.  Free and open RSVP by 9/14. (https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/15ed34ccdaf2ec36 .  IATP is also developing a robust distance learning component, including an informative podcast series on NAFTA(https://www.iatp.org/blog/201709/trade-ag-your-ears-our-new-podcast-uprooted)  Take time to explore the many facets of IATP, a robust and timely resource essential in this world of global/corporate economic flux. (https://www.iatp.org/nafta-portal)

October 20 – Insurgent knowledges: Book talk with Damien Sojoyner and Sabrina Vaught.  Sojoyner is the author of First Strike: Educational enclosures in Black Los Angeles (U of M 2017) and Vaught is the author of Compulsory: Education and the dispassion of youth in a prison school, U of M Press 2017,7:00 PM at the East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier Street in St. Paul.  Details online.

October 21 – A Resister’s Handbook: A benefit performance for East Side Freedom Library.  Xavier Morilla, described as “a labor leader, activist, podcaster, writer and storyteller” – not to mention President of SEIU Local 26.  Working with Levi Weinhagen, Morilla has created the presentation in which Morilla will share his “wit and optimism” with ESFL supporters at a fundraiser event, 5:30-7:00 PM.  A minimum tax-deductible gift of $25 is requested at the door.

November 2-  ESFL will also co-sponsor a timely presentation, The Origins of the Radical Right and the Crisis of Our Democracy, a talk by Nancy MacLean, Professor History and Public Policy at Duke University.  The event is sponsored by ESFL, ISAIAH-Minnesota and the U of MN History Department.7:00 PM at ESFL 1105 Greenbrier Street in St. Paul, 651 230 3294. http://eastsidefreedomlibrary.org

A recent study by the Pew Research Center reports on details of the digital divide.  Data re the Minneapolis-St Paul-Bloomington area are above average, with plenty of room for improvement.  Broadband access in households with income under $20K was 55.5% while 86.6% of 20K+ households enjoy broadband access.

The latest greatest fad at Eat My Words bookstore is Squibs. Squibs are short one-to-ten-page writing pieces – with or sans visuals – described by Squibs hosts as “mini-stories with a beginning, middle and end.”  They can be about any topic that helps get the writer writing.  To follow the EMW muse to a new life of squibbing, join a Squib writing session, Saturdays Noon-1:00 PM at EMW Bookstore, 214 13th Avenue NE (new location) 651 243 1756 or more at www.eatmywordsbooks.com.

Note to out-of-control bibliophiles: Help is at the ready:  https://www.bustle.com/articles/183327-9-things-book-lovers-do-in-the-fall-because-autumn-is-the-perfect-season-for-reading

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As we plunge into the season’s political melee, it might be a good time to catch up on some basics of the democracy.  Following are some tools to help us review and put in contemporary context some of the basics:

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  * Quote from  L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

 

Autumn Leaves Lots to Learn!

There is a harmony in autumn, and a luster in its sky, which through the summer is not heard or seen, as if it could not be, as if it had not been!  

Percy Bysshe Shelley

The harmony and luster of autumn somehow inspire us to learn, to engage, to think deep thoughts about “life, the universe and everything.” The good news is that creative colleagues offer food for thought in the form of theater, literature, film, stories and more. Once again, the in-basket is so full of intriguing programs and activities that I plucked just a few that might ignite some plans. To be sure, the list is random, incomplete, intended as a prompt not a calendar of possibilities!

* Theatre Latte Da opens the new season with production of Ragtime, the award- winning tale of life in turn-of-the-century New York, the melting pot of Jewish immigrants, a woman of privilege, and a Harlem musician. The musical, based on the book by E.L. Doctorow, opens September 21 and runs through October 23. (http://www.theaterlatteda.com)

* A reminder that the Twin Cities Zine Fest is set for Saturday September 24 – details in earlier post (https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/tag/twin-cities-zine-fest-2016/)

* Stories, Down by the Riverside are featured when storytellers Larry Johnson and Elaine Wyne share their experiences – and those of past residents, their friends and neighbors. It’s Sunday, September 25, 2:00 p.m. at the Hennepin History Museum, (http://www.hennepinhistory.org) They’ll spin tales of “The Great Richter Drug Store Robbery,” “The Day the Old Radio Dramas Vanished” and one about thousands of Minneapolis school children who, in 1896, pulled the John and Helen Stevens house from Cedar-Riverside to Minnehaha Park. Guests will be invited to share their own stories of the Cedar-Riverside community.

* The well-received Women’s Human Rights Film Series sponsored by The Advocates for Human Rights launches September 21; the series is a collaboration with the Saint Paul Public Library where the films will be shown at area public libraries during the weeks to come. “Profiled”, set for September 21, at the Hamline Midway Library, relates the stories of mothers of Black and Latin youth murdered by the NYPD, depicting how the women channel their anger into a struggle for justice. “Red Light Green Light,” set for Thursday, October 13, at the St. Anthony Park Library, explores several nations’ efforts to prevent and cope with the travesty of sex trafficking. “Don’t Tell Anyone”, showing Wednesday, November 3, depicts the life of a young woman who is undocumented, one of the generation of DREAMers “eager to end their silence and push for social change.” All films will be shown at 6:30 p.m. (http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/womens_human_rights_film_series)

* Writer and teacher Wendy Brown Baez (http://www.wendybrownbaez.com/POP-UP-Readings.html) is all about Pop Up Readings, aka Classroom in a Backpack. The first Pop Up workshop is set for Wednesday, September 21, 6:30 p.m. at Eat My Words Books (http://www.eatmywordsbooks.com)

* Nimbus Theatre will inaugurate their new home with an original production of The Kalevala set to run October 8-30. The show is written and adapted by Liz Neerland and directed by Josh Cragun. Based on the 19th century epic of the same name, the original nimbus production overflows with fantasy, giants, gods, maidens and others of their ilk set in the “fierce lands of the north” (https://www.nimbustheatre.com/discover/production/kalevala)

* A quick reminder that the Twin Cities Book Festival is set for Saturday, Octobber 115 at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. More about this free event in a separate post.

I’m so glad I live in a world where there is autumn.

L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

 

Public access – The idea, the potential, the stories

Who tells the stories of a culture really governs human behavior. It used to be the parent, the school, the church, the community. Now it’s a handful of global conglomerates that have nothing to tell,  but a great deal to sell

In these few words journalist George Gerbner artfully summed up the vision of public access television.   His was a vision shared by many who have played a role in realizing that mission over the past four decades. The very idea of public access spoke to early advocates’ commitment to the social potential of cable television.

The pre-history of public access goes back to the late 1960’s, a time when cable usually meant a system that delivered broadcast television to communities beyond the reach of the broadcast signal. In 1969 the FCC ruled that “no CATV system having 3,500 or more subscribers shall carry the signal of any television broadcast station unless the system also operates to a significant extent as a local outlet by cablecasting and has available facilities for local production and presentation of programs other than automated services.” Though that rule was rescinded two years later, the idea of local programming endured in ensuing FCC rule making.

The original premises on which early decisions about cable rest underlie most of the tensions that have now erupted. First is the implicit assumption that the spectrum belongs to the people and that the FCC is responsible for regulating the people’s radio waves as a common carrier. (I remember my naïve dark ages discovery that my revolutionary microwave oven was authorized by the FCC.)

Also informing early FCC action is the fact that cable television, unlike phone, gas and electricity, is not an essential service. Thus policy-makers concluded that the for-profit cable operators should be required to provide benefits to the local communities in which they were laying their cables. In a breakthrough ruling the FCC mandated that “beginning in 1972, new cable systems [and after 1977, all cable systems] in the 100 television markets be required to provide channels for government, for educational purposes, and more importantly, for public access.

These public access channels were grouped as “PEG” channels while public access was interpreted to include the presumption that the corporate franchisee would support equipment and airtime for basically unlimited access. And therein lay some early tests of the concept of free speech….

The first public access community access television launched in 1968 in Dale City Virginia; in 1970 Stoughton, Wisconsin followed with WSTO TV. On the national scene, Fred Friendly, head of the Cable TV and Cable Commission, recommended a leased-access plan for public use that was later abandoned. A key figure at this juncture was filmmaker George Stoney about whom local filmmaker Mike Hazard has produced an informative and inspiring documentary. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZowiCZKzvo)

Public access advocates may have underestimated the ensuing conflicts. Prospering access agencies focused on assuring channel access, building a local volunteer board, good programming and audience development.   At the same time many community local cable owners struggled to keep the tower operating – at least for the Sunday football game.

Somewhat in the background, a cataclysmic change inside the Beltway changed the rules. In 1979 the Supreme Court struck down the FCC public access rule, declaring that the FCC had no authority to mandate access. The Court rejected the common carrier argument, ruling instead that cable companies were private persons under the law and that public access requirements were a burden on their conglomerates’ free speech rights.

The Court ruled that the right to regulate cable rests with the U.S. Congress – the quiet beginning a still unfolding narrative….

In spite of broad support for PEG from the access advocacy community, Congress exercised its authority by passing the Cable Communications Act of 1984. Public access took a blow with passage of the 1984 Cable Franchise Act, which declared that “a franchising authority may require channel capacity for pubic, education or government use. This restrictive measure was mitigated in part by the Cable Communications Act of 1984 which barred cable operators from exercising editorial control over content of programs carried on PEG channels; the legislation also indemnified cable operators from liability for the content.

In the early days of public access, corporate interests that coveted the cable channels were willing and able to pay the price, while city authorities that exercised authority over the franchise were able to make demands on franchisees. Mature public access cable systems built studios, hired staff, trained volunteer crews and established their unique role. Advocacy, good government, community action, cultural groups, academic institutions and other public interest groups took advantage of the opportunities to tell their stories and to engage the public.

Over time, the seeds of media deregulation, sowed in the 1990’s, bore bitter fruit in the new century as corporate interests in control of the spectrum began to impinge on public access. With an ever-expanding range of media options – coupled with intense pressure at the federal level, public access channels became increasingly vulnerable to city officials’ willingness to capitulate to conglomerates. Opinions differ on the basic question of whether new technologies will inevitably render public access obsolete or if public access is the vehicle to expand local production and engage more individuals and institutions in the democratic process.

With the passage of time public access has assumed a wide range of profiles. Local development is dependent on the engagement of the public and the inclination of local officials to recognize and support public access in franchise agreements. In the Twin Cities area a number of municipalities and groups of cities have issued franchises that include relatively substantial PEG support.

Statewide the profile of public access development is uneven, heavily dependent on local political realities. As of 2015 these public access television channels are extant in Minnesota: (https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=List_of_public-access_TV_stations_in_the_United_States_(Louisiana–Montana)&action=edit&section=6)

The Twin Cities boasts of a unique manifestation of collaborative efforts among advocates, local government and independent franchising authorities. Metro Cable Network Channel 6 is a must-carry on each of the local cable systems – prospective users have yet to capitalize on the potential.

As the politics of media regulation, including rules governing public access, garner headlines, it is important to note the ways in which individuals and organizations that hold to the “idea” of access are adapting and adopting enhancing technologies. PEG organizations are maximizing the potential of cable to distribute and repurpose in creative new ways. Collaborative partnerships are forging to achieve common goals. Access systems are experimenting, retooling, reimagining their tools, but not their role as the medium for an informed and engaged demography.

Those pioneers who pursued the idea of public access, and persisted to protect the people’s rights to speak and to know, have stories to tell – of triumphs, of wars with conglomerates with “a great deal to sell”, of technology that has erupted with lightning speed and of their efforts to give voice to those who have stories to tell.

Bloodied but unbowed, these hardy folks will soon gather locally to recall their stories. Volunteers are organizing an informal reunion set for Sunday, September 27, Noon – 3:00 at the Northeast home of the Minneapolis Television Network in the Thorp Building, 820 18th Avenue NE., Minneapolis, MN. The idea is to share stories and to affirm the original commitment to a vision. The story of public access television is a relatively short story in which technology and democracy have come to crossroads at many junctures. The event is open to anyone who has a story to tell, a memory, a plan, or just a commitment to the idea of public access television, the vision of a media in the hands of those who have something to say, not just something to sell.

Contact Larry Johnson, larryjvfp@gmail.com or 612-747-3904.

 

 

Ideas + Collaboration = Solutions at CityCampMN and Hackathon

If the mayhem in Our Nation’s Capitol does nothing else it does inspire one to face and possibly solve the problems right here at home – the little stuff that makes a difference in our daily lives, the sorts of challenges that people of good can and will work together to solve.   Civic-minded activists who see the possibilities in technology should seize the chance to participate in these related projects set for Saturday-Sunday, November 9 and 10.

CityCampMN 2013: Engaging Civic Innovations (http://blog.e-democracy.org/posts/2276) is an “unconference” for Minnesotans who want to explore “passion-fueled technology-enhanced civic ideas and solutions.”  The unconference, organized by E-Democracy and Open Twin Cities, offers a chance to connect “active citizens, community leaders, technology buffs and government officials.”  The project promises to be a unique opportunity for collaborative problem solving during which “the group will discuss and imagine how to use technology to strengthen communities and create more open government.”

CityCampMN is Saturday, November 9, 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM at the University of St. Thomas Minneapolis Campus, Schulze Hall.  Registration options are $10 guaranteed spot, open donation, or free (limited space lottery).  All include free lunch and reception.

Topics of the day are wide ranging, something for everyone:  open government, civic technology apps, online engagement, digital journalism, open data, visualization and analytics, tech for social justice and equity, neighbors online, digital youth empowerment, civic hacking, digital inclusion, social media for good, with room for new ideas from participants.  (WHEW!)

The following day, Sunday, November 10, the learning continues at “A Hack for MN Mini-camp” sponsored by Open Twin Cities (http://www.opentwincities.org).  The hackathon is at DevJam Studios (http://devjam.com/about/devjam).  It’s a follow up to the issues and ideas discussed at CityCampMN.

The events are open to everyone who believes that access to information is key to a vital community.  Non-techies welcome.

Click here to register online for either or both events:  http://citycampmn2013.eventbrite.com.

 

 

 

Digital Directories Tell the Minneapolis Story

More open doors to learning – and endless armchair meanderings – from Special Collections at the Minneapolis Central Library.   I know because I have been lost for far too long now in the digital collection of Minneapolis City Directories, now accessible online covering the years 1858-1917.  The collection is accessible remotely, free of charge, no library card necessary.

The expanded access to this treasure trove of local history is made possible in parat  by donations from the former Professional Librarians Union of Minneapolis and a grant from the Minnesota Legacy program..

Cautionary note #1  Don’t let the pedantic title be a turn down – never judge a directory by its title.  These directories are rich with magnificent ads, beautifully engraved and otherwise illustrated attention grabbers, many promoted by enterprises that remain today’s directories.  There is also a wealth of information about city government and services as well as addresses and occupations of city residents.

Cautionary note #2:  Approach your armchair perusal of the directories with an open schedule.  It is absolutely captivating – a joy to explore, especially when it’s displayed  at your leisure and you have time to follow your browsing whim!  Great for genealogists, local historians, attorneys  and any Minneapolitan with a whit of curiosity about the City.

Kudos to Special Collections for their continued efforts to digitize and otherwise expand access to the Library’s holdings – great for scholars and the rest of us!

An Armchair Guide to the James K. Hosmer Special Collections

Habitue that I am of the James K. Hosmer Special Collections at Minneapolis Central Library, I somehow missed last September’s telecast of Treasures Collected, Treasures Shared on tpt.  The documentary is a joint production of tpt and Hennepin County Library with funds from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

It’s a joy to experience the collection, even vicariously.

As an introduction to the treasures of Special Collections five researchers describe their experiences.  Penny Peterson is researcher and historian;  Joyce Wisdom is ED of the Lake Street Council; librarian Linda James is producer of tpt’s Lost Twin Cities Series; Chris and Rushika Hage wrote Nicollet Island: History and Architecture.

Also interviewed for the documentary is musician and storyteller Dan Chouinard who says “I’ve made use of Special Collections for three writing projects now, with at least another two on deck…I know I’ve barely scratched the surface and I’m looking forward to making use of the tremendous staff expertise and the bast content, especially the World War II collections I’ll be using in a show for MPR in January. ”

All of these individuals have produced books, radio and TV documentaries, even historic walking tours, based on their research in the Hosmer Collection.

DVD copies of Treasures Collected, Treasures Shared are available through the Hennepin County Library system.  Short videos produced by tpt about the Library’s Special Collections, including the Kittleson World War II Collection and house history resources will also be posted on HCL’s YouTube and Vimeo channels.

Manager of Special Collections, Ted Hathaway, can be reached at 612 543 8200 or on the web.

Gordon Parks: St Paul Claims – and Celebrates — a Local Hero

When I first read Gordon Parks’ A Choice of Weapons I was working at the District of Columbia Teachers College, 13th and Harvard Northwest in Washington, DC,  the epi-center of the DC riots of the late 60’s.  His experience as a teen in St. Paul’s Rondo area was so near and yet so far.  I had graduated from St. Joseph’s Academy, a five minute walk to Rondo (I know because we had to trek to the old Hallie Q. Brown for phy ed…)   Though I knew where Rondo was, I didn’t know Rondo.  I had no sense of what it meant to grow up there.

At the time I learned of and read Gordon Parks I had been working  2-3 years in an all Black environment.  It was also post the DC riots that had laid bare the unbearable raw evil of racism so palpable in the community in which I spent my days as a librarian who loved working an all-Black faculty committed to equality and excellence.  The reality of the college I loved under siege seemed unlike the Rondo neighborhood that was so near and yet so far from my high school days.

I began to wonder for the first time about the people who lived in the neighborhood around SJA, the kids we walked past every day en route to and from the bus.  I wondered about their parents – where did they work? where did they go to church? where did they shop or eat out or buy shoes or get a haircut?

Gordon Parks helped me face, and to some extent understand, Rondo – and to see the differences between the lives of African Americans in Rondo and the lives of those who lived near 13th and Harvard.

Referring to his earlier life in Kansas, Parks wrote:

Neither were these new friends as militant as we back there had been.  The lack of racial conflict here made the difference.  Minnesota Negroes were given more, so they had less to fight for….There were exceptions, but Minnesota Negroes seemed apathetic about the lynching, burning and murdering of black people in the South.  The tragedy taking place down there might just as well have been on another planet.  And they didn’t press vigorously for right in their own communities.

And, I realized, the white community in his St. Paul neighborhood were more accepting of the Rondo residents because the African Americans in St. Paul were so very few.   Scratch the surface, I thought.,,,

Throughout 2012 we celebrate the life and work of Gordon Parks who was born November 20, 1912 in Fort Scott, Kansas, the youngest of fifteen children.  When his mother died Gordon, now fourteen, was shipped off to live with an aunt in St. Paul.  Soon left to his own devices he was at times homeless, at times finding jobs that ranged from piano player in a bordello to a job with the CCC and eventually a steady job as porter, then waiter, on the railroad – experiences that show up in his later life as a renowned filmmaker, writer, musician, and photographer.

Kansans and Minnesotans are both celebrating the centenary of their hometown artist this month.  In June, hundreds followers visited the exhibition of Parks’ photographs at the Weinstein Gallery in Minneapolis.   The exhibit was mounted at the same time as a similar exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  The guide to the exhibit describes Parks’ pioneer work in photography:

 Parks was one of the most prolific and diverse American artists of the 20th Century.  His photographs span from the social commentary of the photographic icon of American Gothic, to Paris fashion for Vogue.  Parks’ photos chronicled the Civil rights movement in Life Magazine for two decades, and his portraits of celebrities like Ingrid Bergman brought him additional levels of fame and distinction.

As a filmmaker he was the first African American man to direct a major Hollywood production with the poignant memoir of his youth, The Learning Tree, and he broke new ground with a hip and provocative African American hero in Shaft, a movie that continues to be a pop culture classic.

This month brings a host of Parks celebrations, held in conjunction with the date of his birth, November 30,   Some of the highlights of this month’s tributes are these:

0 November 23-29 – Gordon Parks Centennial Celebration at the St. Anthony Main Theatre,  a Parks film festival featuring:

The Learning Tree – Saturday, November 24, 7:00 p.m.

Leadbelly – Sunday, November 25, 7:00 p.m. and Wednesday November 28, 7:00 p.m.

Shaft – Thursday, November 29, 7:00 p.m.  Special guest Richard Roundtree

0  November 27, John Wright, Professor of English and African American and African Studies, University of Minnesota, will discuss and sign copies of the book Gordon Parks Centennial: His Legacy at Wichita State University.  UMN Coffman Union Bookstore, 4:00 p.m.

0 Friday, November 30, at the Minnesota History Center.  Vocalist Jackson Hurst, The Sounds of Blackness, and Richard Roundtree.  7:00 p.m.

Though the films, photographs, lectures and music are great, St Paul’s true lasting tribute to Gordon Parks is the alternative high school that bears and honors his name.  Like the Green Line on which it is located,  Gordon Parks High School, 1212 University West in St. Paul’s Midway district, is a great work in progress.

Walking Windom Park — and more

For several reasons, most notably the glorious days of an ideal Minnesota autumn, I’ve been walking a lot in recent weeks.  This week I did stop for coffee and found myself on a pedestrian’s holiday reading the recent Journal piece written by Hilary Reeves, communications director for Bike Walk Twin Cities.  As I walked on I started formulating my own thoughts about walking  — the plusses and the problems of one who lives in Stretchers and disdains the very thought of a pedicure.

We all know that walking is good for the bod, even a bod that’s been around the block – literally and figuratively – more than a few times.  It’s also good for the mind – lots of time to craft the perfect retort, the clever ditty, the letter to the editor, or probably the great American novel for well-shod walkers with literary talents.  I muse about what Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote of Thoreau, who communed with nature and eschewed city sidewalks. “The length of his walk uniformly made the length of his writing. If shut up in the house, he did not write at all.”

Lacking the bucolic escape to Walden Pond  — and Thoreau’s way with words –I’m an urban walker with a penchant for walks in Windom Park.  As such, I love to deconstruct the neighborhoods I trod – why the Tudor house on the corner?  Why the row of cozy cottages that bear the indelible mark of post-WWII vintage design?  Why the abandoned shop on the corner that once let families dash out for a quart of milk , a loaf of bread  or a handful of penny candy without driving to the mall.

On summer days I ponder the pied-colored hieroglyphics that foretell what’s about to happen with the plumbing, the electricity or some other mysterious city development project.  The complexity of the coded information gives rise to wild images of which public utility is about to break ground in the hood.

Walking can also engender deep thoughts about the barriers impeding the progress of the city walker – uneven sidewalks that could use a warning stripe if the city lacks the finances to restore the cement, the unleashed dog that threatens to clear the chain link fence in a single bound, bikers who haven’t got the message that the bike lanes are for their personal use, and most of all, the inevitable snow banks that rise at every corner, then freeze so that pedestrians are effectively frozen in captivity while the school bus  or Metro Transit speeds by unaware of their diminutive presence.

Rodgers and Hammerstein notwithstanding, I actually prefer to walk alone. A high-energy pacer would intimidate me.  Besides, I like to choose my own erratic path, to stop and examine the particulars of a site, to chat with neighbor kids, or to quit when I’m too tired, too cold, or if I want to get back to the computer so I can download my musings.

Of late I have been narrowing my thoughts to some forthcoming walks that add purpose to my idle pedestrian ambles.  There are scores of purposeful walks, of course, these are just some with which I am personally involved.  Every walker his a similar slate of walks for a cause.

  • First is the Raise Our Collective Voices to Say No walk and rally next  Saturday, October 20.  The walk is planned to alert voters in North and Northeast Minneapolis to the pernicious implications of the Voter ID Amendment that will face voters on November 6.          
  • Or there’s the Walk to End Hunger, a monumental collaboration in which walkers of every stripe and stature will gather at the MOA early Thanksgiving morning.  It’s a fundraiser sponsored by several hunger-related organizations working in tandem to address the travesty of Minnesotans lack of access to essential food resources.
  • Also playing in my mind are plans underway for the annual President’s Walk in Northeast Minneapolis.  It’s not till February but it’s this neighborhood’s very special way ro honoring our nation’s presidents by walking or biking the streets on which we live, running from Washington to McKinley and (sort of) beyond.  It’s a great neighborhood event during which neighbors celebrate the presidents and the history of Northeast.  Intrepid walkers are delighted that the 2013 walk has caught the attention of some hearty bikers who will defy the wintry odds by peddling the presidential route.  Plans are percolating – details later.

It’s great that walking offers a low-cost fitness routine.  Walking can also promote social justice and political change.  Still, if the sages ask me why my saunters are wasted on the earth and sky, I’ll tell them that, if neighborhoods are made for seeing, then walking is its own excuse for being.

WPA’s Legacy Shapes the Landscape of Minnesota and of Northeast Minneapolis

There’s talk these days that what this nation/state/city needs is a 21st Century Work Progress Administration (WPA).  It’s short-hand for what is, in fact, an incredibly complex story of a Depression era program of immense import to the participants and their families, to the economy, and to every American today.

Instinctively, mention of WPA conjures images of bridges, roads, buildings and other concrete (literally) memorials to the work of thousands of men and women who improved the physical infrastructure of the nation.  In part this is because those physical structures remain and the “WPA” stamp is an enduring reminder of who did the work.

One remarkable aspect of the WPA initiative is the less visible but equally lasting impact on the lives of people who were struggling through treacherous economic times.  The goal was to provide one paid job for all families where the breadwinner suffered long-term unemployment.  As one recorder of WPA activities wrote in 1942, “The Work Projects Administration helped to solve the problems of the family and the city.”

The WPA was authorized in 1935 under the leadership of President Franklin D. Roosevelt with the inspiration and guidance of his adviser Harry Hopkins.  Framed as an outgrowth of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration WPA focused on economic recovery and on the absolute commitment to the value of a real job.  Though critics charged that WPA was a government handout, the truth is that WPA workers improved the health and welfare of millions of Americans who learned new skills, tried out ideas, and left a positive imprint of solid construction and implementation of essential community services.

During WPA’s  eight years Americans invested $13.4 billion dollars. In Minneapolis 70,000 men and women found gainful work, education and creative opportunities through WPA. When WPA was dissolved in 1943 it was not failure of the program but a more robust economy buoyed by the harsh reality that American men and women had found defense-related employment.

One hallmark of WPA was that it was largely operated by state and local governments.  Local agencies which provided 10-30% of costs worked closely with and nonprofits and community organization that played a major role in developing and delivering services.

Begun as an economic development/employment project WPA shifted with the tides of time.  As American workers found jobs in industry, labor unions worried less about their members losing jobs to WPA workers; this opened the way for WPA to venture into vocational training.  As visionaries worried about the loss of creative talent and feared that writers, artists, musicians were given unskilled labor jobs, programs in the arts emerged.  Later, as War overwhelmed the nation, existing programs were repositioned in terms of defense preparedness.

The diversity, complexity and shifting direction of WPA programs is hard to categorize. Though they are variously grouped, the WPA programs fall generally into the categories of Construction and Community Service.

Construction

Minneapolitans live in a city built with the labor of WPA workers, working for no more than $8/hour and grateful to have a job to go to in the Depression era.  A shining example of their work is the Minneapolis Armory, built in 1935, probably the most important building constructed in the Twin Cities during the Depression.

The Armory is known as the nation’s shining example of Moderne style.  Its very existence depends to some extent on the fact that it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Armory construction brought $300,000 into the local market while it employed over 400 tradesmen.  All of the materials for the building were produced locally, in keeping with principles of WPA projects – steelwork by Minneapolis Moline and Gillette-Herzog, brick from Twin City Brick, granite from St Cloud and limestone from Mankato.

The Armory is just one stunning example of the physical impact of WPA . Some basic statistics describe the scope:  WPA workers built eleven new city garages and reconditioned five new parks, 68 playgrounds and eight high school athletic fields enlarged and improved 14 branch and main libraries, built or repaired sewers, alleys, curbs and gutters repaired, repaved thirty miles of street and built ten new bridges.  They also installed nearly 65,000 street and traffic signs.  You get the idea.

Other construction highlights include these:

  • Columbia Golf Course, which dates from the early 1900’s,  is one WPA project with which most Northeasters are familiar.  Golfers enjoy the upgraded grass greens created by WPA workers.  The improved greens actually helped Columbia to continue to operate, though at a loss, during hard times.
  • Another local hallmark of WPA is John P. Murzyn Hall in Columbia Heights which began as a WPA project at a cost of $649,407.  Originally known as Columbia Heights Field House, the hall served da community center for the people of Columbia Heights.  The first official event at Murzyn was the January 28 Birthday Ball to celebrate Washington’s Birthday in 1939. Murzyn Hall continues to serve the community as the site of countless dances and other activities and a popular locus for weddings and other important family and community celebrations.
  • Wold-Chamberlain, then one of the largest in the country, enjoyed a major rehab subsidized with $2 million federal funds and the labors of hundreds of WPA workers.  The construction include 30,000 feet of new runway, new hangers, grading for a new naval base and more.
  • Liberal grants of federal funds and WPA labor benefitted the Minneapolis Municipal River Terminal
  • The Minnesota Soldiers Home got a new power plant along with extensive landscaping and sidewalk construction.
  • The Longfellow House was rehabbed and converted into a public library, now a charming museum and reminder of an earlier Minneapolis
  • The “belt line highway” remains a major thoroughfare that still bears the mark of the WPA workers who provided a sixty-foot main highway 66 miles long, “flanked on each side by walks and service drives.”  The goal was to “enable motorists from the west to enter the heart of Minneapolis at the most advantageous point, with minimum confusion and maximum safety.”
  • The city’s proud heritage of beautiful parks owes a debt to WPA workers who established five new parks and reconditioned thirteen others. They built five new parks and added bath houses and landscaping to Lake Calhoun and Lake Hiawatha.  The beauty of Theodore Wirth and Minnehaha Park tells the WPA story writ large.
  • They remodeled the interior of the Minneapolis auditorium and rehabbed numerous court houses offices.
  • Workers reconditioned 22 municipal buildings including seven fire and four police stations.
  • General Hospital and the University hospital received assistance for a total of 155 WPA construction workers.
  • WPA workers worked in a quieter environment to conduct a geodetic survey of Minneapolis “to determine the precise locations of boundaries and geographic points so that the city’s future may be planned intelligently and precisely.”  The report of the survey is that the “geodetic maps are accurate within an inch and less. The project is closely allied to the U.S. coastal and geodetic survey.
  • Of particular interest to Northeasters are the five greens that WPA workers constructed at the Columbia Heights Golf Course.
  • The Minnesota State Fairgrounds are not exactly Minneapolis but as the home of the Great Minnesota Get Together the Fairgrounds belong to all of us – and to WPA we all owe a debt of gratitude to the WPA workers who built the swine and horse barns, the poultry building, the cattle barn ramp, the 4_H building, with improvements to the grandstand, parking areas and the grounds – all at a cost of $2 million federal funds.

Minneapolitans who walk, drive, fly, learn, play sports or just enjoy the beauty of a city park or other public space have a WPA worker and a progressive administration to thank for the vision that merged the economic vitality of the community with the needs of a family for a steady, if minimum, income and a worker who is proud of day’s work well done.

Community Services 

One chronicler of WPA notes that, “everyone can watch the construction of a new school or a bridge in his community, see the men at work, and recognize the value of this work to himself and his fellow man.  The value of this [community service] work aimed at the educational, recreational, and cultural needs of the people as well as at their physical health and well being, is more difficult to determine.”  Still, the reporter observes, it is essential to record “what this work means in time of peace and its increased possibilities in time of national emergency.”

A quick survey of the community service programs of WPA offers a superficial hint at the truth of this observation:

1) Education.   High on the list of programs is adult education, broadly defined.  Americanization classes were a key “defense activity.” Governor Stassen observed that “such classes are a distinct aid to national unity – they help to extend the friendly hand of a free people to those who desire to become one with us.”

Other adult education programs focused on literacy assistance geared to “making Minnesota the most literate state in the union.”  Assistance went to local school boards to establish “Junior Extension colleges.”

Vocational courses such as shorthand and typing, navigation and life boat practices, first aid and safety, dressmaking and dramatics also got WPA support.  Vocational courses included foreign languages, radio code, diesel engineering and just about anything related to national defense.

There were courses in practical skills such as public speaking and parliamentary law as well as special programs in handicrafts for “shut-ins” who learned skills to create products to sell.  Homebound teachers reached children with disabilities who had never been to school

Numerous other programs came under the broadly-defined education activities:

  • Nursery schools were another priority.  By 1941 over 1000 “under-privileged children ages 2-5 were enrolled in 29 nursery schools in 22 communities including several Indian reservations.
  • Children’s health was a major concern as WPA provided yearly examinations and other health measures including smallpox vaccinations, diphtheria inoculations and Mantoux tests for thousands of children.
  • The women’s WPA sewing project employed nearly 500 women in Minneapolis.  The efficient manufacturing organization was a model of efficiency, so efficient that it was threatened because the women had produced enough clothing to serve the relief department’s distribution needs for up to seven years.  At one point it was rumored that the clothing might go to England as part of the lease-lend program.
  • WPA played a significant role in the extension of public library service to a million unserved Minnesotans.  WPA opened 167 new book stations, served nearly 3000,000 Minnesotans without nearby libraries and registered 37, 117 new borrowers.
  • Under the supervision of Gratia Countryman and working at Trudeau School 183 WPA workers indexed the Minneapolis Star Journal from its beginning and microfilmed the Minneapolis Journal for the years 1878-1939.  The project also provided braille textbooks and texts in large print.
  • WPA workers were visible in school libraries.  Though many were placed as librarians in the schools, others restored thousands of damaged books and magazines – everything from repairing book bindings to erasing finger smudges from the margins.
  • Over 900 WPA workers served recreation projects serving 200 communities in 76 Minnesota counties throughout the state.  Again, emphasis was on long-term recreation programming couched in terms of national defense.

2) Arts.  The most lasting of the WPA community service are programs in the arts – visual arts, music, writing and museums.  The impact of these programs is evident and powerful sixty years later.  The Federal Writers Project and the WPA Artists Project clearly have lives of their own.

Federal arts Project:  In Minneapolis the imprint of the Federal Arts Project is pronounced.  WPA-supported visual artists created paintings, sculpture and murals in public buildings as well as easel paintings and graphic arts for public agencies.  Artists worked in realistic styles and chose familiar subjects such as cityscapes, farm scenes, people at work and play to create a portrait of Minnesota life in the era.  The murals at the Minneapolis Armory are perhaps the most evident. The Armory houses two of the few remaining examples of Federal Arts Project murals, large frescoed murals by local artists Elsa Jemne and Lucia Wiley. In recent years both the Minnesota History Center and the Weismann Museum have mounted exhibits of Federal Art Project works.

The program also included free classes for all age groups and rotating exhibits of national and local art works.  At the Walker Art Center scores of workers conducted art classes and activities for hundreds of children and adults.

Federal Writers Project.  In Minnesota as in other states the emphasis in the Writers Project was to communicate the state’s history, folklore, stories, culture and more to the written page.  Writers collected manuscripts and plumbed the memories of pioneers.  They recorded and organized thousands of stories that live today in books, libraries and particularly in the American Memory Project sponsored by the Library of Congress.

Of particular interest to Northeasters is one of these books, The Bohemian Flats, first published through WPA in 1941.  It’s the story of a small, isolated community that lay on the west bank of the Mississippi, tucked underneath the Washington Avenue bridge  From the 1779’s to the 1940’s the village was a home to generations of immigrants  – Swedish, Norwegian, Czech, Irish, Polish and especially Slovaks.  The book continues to be published, expanded and read.

Another visible WPA project is publication of Minnesota: A State Guide, part of the American Guide Series and still in print.  A fascinating story about the Guidebook is the controversy it caused when right wingers charged that it and similar guidebooks from other states were actually community propaganda.

Hundreds of photographs taken by WPA workers are now digitized and online through the Minneapolis Central Library. Photographs of neighborhood churches, monuments, landscapes and more are an essential visual record of the city as it was in the late 1930’s.

Music project. Emphasis of the Minnesota Music Project was to bring the educational, cultural and entertainment values of living music to communities who could not otherwise had had these advantages.  The project included summer band concerts and music for community singing, band clinics for young musicians, and radio concerts broadcast over the University of Minnesota radio station.

250 musicians were employed oin twelve units throughout the state – one symphony orchestra, two concert bands, one “negro” chorus, a teacher’s project, a copyist project and six small bands.  In addition WPA supported an experimental project in music therapy at the University of Minnesota Hospital

3) Research and records.  Though the work sounds tedious, the impact of the research and records programs of WPA are used every day by Minnesotans.  The project included several elements focused on arranging, indexing or improving essential records;  neglected in boom times the records are of long-time importance for administrative and research purposes as well as to Minneapolis-born residents who want to find their own birth records or those of their forbearers.

One major records project was the Historical Records Survey designed for the use it gets today by public officials, attorneys, students of political scientists and researchers.  WPA workers surveyed public archives, the records and history of organizations, from churches and cemeteries to social organizations, objects and places, including monuments, historic sites, trails and Indian burials and mounds., manuscripts and more.  Today the Survey is a research staple.

Some 800 workers were employed at the state and county levels to refurbish, list, revise, extend, index and otherwise improve private records.  Workers also created a variety of maps for every incorporated village and city in the state, including maps of real property.  Today Minneapolitans can research their house history by referring to the WPA survey of Minneapolis homes and residents including the condition of the building and yard, the type of heating, whether the house had running water, sewer connections, mechanical refrigerator or ice box, the number of residents in the home, their ethnicity, nationality and occupation.

Minnesota’s Historical Records Survey identified and organized local public records such as the names of local officials, the function of each office and the records of historic buildings and sites.  WPA workers assisted in the development of research studies including surveys of the safest routes for school children, real estate activity surveys, income studies and the Minneapolis fire hazard survey which revealed and led to the correction of thousands of fire hazards.

Research was also a priority at public higher education institutions.  WPA supported technical undertakings, many related to national defense. The main and “farm” campuses of the University of Minnesota were at the forefront of WPA implementation.  Some 460 WPA workers worked on over one hundred project in the fields of science, history, medicine, technology and others.  Workers assisted in research several projects tied to national defense, including studies of sulfa’s use in treating wounds, burns and infections, elements of high explosives, the strength of aircraft materials.

Conclusion

Whether or not a WPA-type project is appropriate to meeting the economic and social challenges of today, the history of the initiative is a rich sources of ideas proposed, projects planned and implemented, concrete results that can be measured in terms of the degree to which they have met the test of time.

Note:  This article was written for and published in The Northeaster, the community newspaper of Northeast Minneapolis.  Much of the material in this article is based on reports by and to WPA officials.  Of particular value was the 1041 report to the Federal Works Agency, Works Projects Administration, published by the Work Projects Administraton of Minnesota.    Also important was a 1939 report by the State Administrator, Linus C. Glotzbach, prepared for Colonel F.C. Harrington, director of WPA.  A 1942 guide prepared for Social Studies Teachers, prepared with the assistance of the WPA, was also very useful 

These reports and countless others are available at Minneapolis Central Library Special Collections.

 

 

 

Amy Fields Builds Eastside Food Co-op as a Vital Community Resource

When you think Eastside Food Co-op – think ROOTS.  First come images of root vegetables – carrots, beets, yams, parsnips, radishes and all of those staples of the summer garden and the winter dinner table.

When Amy Fields speaks of roots it’s about the roots of the EFC itself, the core values that have shaped the community resource since its beginning,  Like those vegetable roots, the vision of the Coop is sometimes buried, more visible in a flourishing program than in the ideas that  lie beneath the surface 

When the first shoots of EFC sprouted in 2003 and for the first few years of operation, the focus was on the tangible — the plant sale, the farmers’ market, building a revenue stream and a sense of community among the thirteen neighborhoods, the schools, nonprofit civic and service organizations in Northeast.  Always at the root were the implicit core principles of training and community building.

As the store has grown and the revenue stream has stabilized EFC is able to focus on the less tangible but no less real goals of the cooperative.  The developments are visible.

  • Outreach opportunities, particularly with education and training programs.  EFC’s services now reach an area that incorporates Columbia Heights, Roseville, and St. Anthony Village with programs such as the Senior Wisdom Program in Roseville, classes at Northeast and Pillsbury Schools and start-up support for the new co-op on the Northside.
  • Expanded collaboration with a wider range of community organizations, such as the Northeast Regional Library and Neighborhood Healthsource and the University of Minnesota on a shared approach to identifying and meeting the health and nutrition needs of the area.
  • The success of the Recovery Bike Shop which has led to meeting the interests and shopping interests of a common customer base.
  • The popularity of the Yoga  Studio and the wellness program as prime services of the EFC.

By far the most visible is EFC’s development of the Granite Studio as a major community gathering place for learning and community building. 

  • The popular Indoor Farmers’ Market. 
  • Monthly movie nights, third Thursdays at 7:00 p.m, have become a community staple.  EFC has hosted a powerful program of community film screenings for adults and children – all free and open, complete with popcorn!
  • Northeast Network sessions that meet the second Thursday of every month, 7:30 -9:00 a.m. offer a unique opportunity for Northeast neighbors to explore a range of community options and concerns – from development of the Mississippi, to the arts agenda, to the impact of Census 2010 findings.  Northeast Networks provide a venue for concerned residents to learn, to share experience and ideas – not to mention energy.  Elected officials participate as learners and listeners.  All ideas are welcome.  Again, free and open to all, complimentary tempting treats provided.  Though the program ends by 9:00 sharp, the discussions continue and the ideas that flow are better informed and often reinforced and expanded as they mature.
  • The Granite Studio has also been the venue for countless groups ranging including a USDA hearing on meat safety, meetings of the Northeast Investment Cooperative and the Sierra Club, Art-A-Whirl events and a recent kickoff for Altered Aesthetics.

 One subtle service of EFC that caught my imagination was the Co-op’s support of local musicians.  Because the music played on the market’s audio system must be licensed, EFC offers an easy option.  Local musicians are free to upload their digital offerings to the Co-op which will then play the music on the in-store system.   

The fertile minds of Amy Fields, her staff and board seem to know no bounds. 

Right now they are planning EFC’s participation in August Eat Local Month.  One feature of EFC’s participation will be a special thank you to Co-op members – a generous bag of EFC groceries for members participating in National Night Out , August 7, 2012 – one way Amy wants to thank the people who share by supporting the Eastside Food Co-op on a regular basis.

The harvest of services, programs and ideas implicit in the  seeds of those original core principles is plentiful indeed.  This community is enriched by the Eastside Food Co-op.

Contacts:  info@eastsidefood.coop

www.eastsidefood.coop