Sayge Carroll and Keegan Xavi are Minneapolisartists who have spent the past year engaging in popular artistic activism as an antidote to the heaviness of life in a city now largely synonymous with police brutality, violent protests and racial consideration.
In the months following the murder of George Floyd, Carroll and Xavi, each of the interdisciplinary artists, hosted Harvest Feast meals – one on the south side of town and one in Xavi’s backyard, on the north side. They also distributed “Tiny Art Kits” as a form of expression. Their intention: to create safe methods and spaces for exchanging difficult emotions like grief, rage, and reimagined hopes after Floyd’s murder and their city torn apart in the days and weeks that followed. The Harvest Festival events were also the duo’s response to a request from the Minneapolis Bureau of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy for artists of color to help quench some of the city’s heartbreak. through direct acts of neighborhood involvement.
In return, the city awarded grants of $ 10,000 for 10 neighborhood projects spread across Minneapolis, including the infamous intersection of 38e Street and Chicago Avenue where Floyd lay across the street pleading for his life as Chauvin’s knee dipped into his neck. The city has also provided additional resources for stress and trauma relief specifically for artists.
‘Let the artists and creativity rule at this time when we all struggled to process so much – it was beautiful to live in, a real way of listening and caring for each other, community driven’ ‘says Xavi, 45. artists used part of their funds to employ other unemployed artists and restorers. “That’s kind of what the future might look like in any city brave enough to try another way,” says Xavi.
Photos: protests raging in Minneapolis
Yet a year later, as Floyd’s convicted murderer, former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, awaits sentencing, Xavi, Carroll and other community artists claim Minneapolis remains a city mired in grief, a place that also deeply needs acts of engagement as responses to calls for police and social justice reform.
Look no further, they say, than the death of Daunte Wright, another black man, just 20, who was killed in Brooklyn Center, a suburb of Minneapolis. Wright died from a single shot by a white policeman, Kim Potter. The shooting took place as National Guard troops kept watch on Minneapolis and citizens held their breath as they await a verdict in the Chauvin trial, possibly even a return to civil unrest.
Although Chauvin was unanimously condemned, the artists say, neither justice nor healing has been fully achieved.
“There is always this fatigue weighing on the city,” says Xavi, who is also a professor and art historian. “It’s like being shocked.”
Samuel Ero Phillips, an architectural designer, chose the very intersection where Floyd was killed to build an outdoor barber shop, a project he called “Haircuts for Change”. With the allure of a free haircut, Phillips watched patrons relax. in difficult conversations about Floyd’s death and its aftermath, which some equate to living in a militarized war zone as police and National Guard troops take to the streets.
“The trauma we experienced as a city from the impact of George Floyd’s death and the COVID pandemic demanded that something different be done for the community and by the community,” says Phillips. “You can’t just go back to normal when the eyes of the world are on you, and everyone sees how systemic and deadly white supremacy and racial injustice is. Minneapolis needed a way to start healing. We still need it. ”
Soon, the small, three-person Minneapolis arts and culture office plans to re-recruit local artists through its Creative Response Fund and a new round of funding of $ 250,000. The same goal is at work: a desire to expand access to stress relief and healing through neighborhood projects led by artists.
“What we are learning in our city is that artists are not just the dreamers, but the ones who bring the imagination, which is the essential element of these movements of change, ” explains Sha Cage, playwright, filmmaker, performer and activist. “It’s the imagination, even in times of trauma, that allows people to live in the dream space (of), ‘OK, what’s the way to go? What do we want to build? What do we never want to rebuild again? ”
Cage’s questions are central to what the grants will help Minneapolis explore. The majority of the new funds – $ 200,000 – will go to 20 artists applying for the first time. Each artist will have one year to complete their work.
“All of our artists are community activists who are already doing community support work,” says Gülgün Kayim, director of the office. “It absolutely makes sense to provide them with resources to amplify this work and hopefully the healing. We invest in the process of dialogue that occurs, the act of initiating and having difficult conversations in a creative way. It is this process that can help people restore and recover. It is more important than a thing or an object. ”
All funding is made possible by The Kresge Foundation. Artists who received grants in 2020 will be eligible for grants of $ 5,000 to support ongoing projects. “We are a stressed city,” says Kayim. “Support for healing cannot be unique”.
Carroll agrees. “I am still so angry, sad and broken. All I’m doing is so I don’t end up in a ball or suddenly want to kill someone.
Carroll, 52, and his teenage son Morgan live on the south side of town, just three blocks from the intersection of 38e and Chicago Avenue. In the days and weeks following Floyd’s death, Carroll visited what is known as George Floyd Square in solidarity with other activists, artists and countless other grieving and protesting. But the weight of witnessing so much pain, while simultaneously trying to navigate safely during a pandemic, has taken its toll.
“I’m exhausted,” Carroll says.
In response, Carroll followed the same advice she shared with her neighbors and sought solace in art and creative expression. Shortly after arranging the meal for 75 neighbors, Carroll began to pour out her grief with a ceramic project, hoping to also invite others to join her in conversations about the need for the city - and his – of safe and comforting spaces.
Use of an indoor studio and an oven University of Minnesota, Carroll built a 4ft by 6ft terracotta vessel with an opening in its center wide enough for up to two people to symbolically fit inside. The unnamed ship became part of “Hungry for Next,” a college-level public art exhibit at the university’s Katharine E. Nash Gallery. For Carroll, creating the cocoon-like object and sharing it publicly provided both an unexpected personal catharsis and another compelling reminder of the depth of unresolved trauma that she believes many in Minneapolis live and embody in silence.
“I hadn’t realized how even I was holding out and for so long,” Carroll says. “There was Rodney King before George Floyd. America loves black pain. We’re doing box office thrillers about it, but there isn’t a priority on the issues of healing and support. We are expected to return to some type of normalcy. But we need more ways to reinvent collective joy and relief. ”
In honor of the one-year “remembrance” – a term artists and activists insist on being used on the “anniversary” – of Floyd’s murder, Cage prepares what she calls a happy birthday. act of community liberation. She wants artists, citizens, activists – anyone, really – to bubble with her as they gather in George Floyd Square. The idea, says Cage, is to show the possibility of creating simple acts of relief even in times of rage. The ability to balance the two, she says, is what makes artists essential workers in times of crisis and social upheaval.
“When you look at any movement in history, there has been an artistic component somewhere,” she says. “Artists and expression are essential. We are the ones who hold up the pieces of the sky, so they don’t fall on us.”
Kayim admits that art and simple acts of creative community engagement like Cage’s are not universally seen as solutions to social justice and reform. “There’s this well-worn trope that a lot of people have about arts and culture, that it’s really just a waste of energy,” she says. “People see it as entertainment and decoration rather than what makes us human and whole. ”
In Minneapolis, she says, the need for these reminders is crying, urgent and drenched in blood.
“Until the police stop killing black men and blacks, the need to support healing will still be there,” Kayim says. “Our bodies hold on to stress and trauma. We can’t just pretend we’re back to normal. We have to have a way to relieve some of the pressure. We can’t do it cognitively. It has to be done. emotionally and collectively. ”
Nichole M. Christian is a Michigan-based writer. She wrote this piece for Island press, a non-profit publisher that receives support from the Kresge Foundation.