Convocation Uplifts Artists

Danny Reinan, Staff Writer

Students gathered in the chapel on Nov 21 to hear from DeAnna Cummings, the co-founder and CEO of Juxtaposition Arts, a non-profit visual arts center based in North Minneapolis.

Founded in 1995, Juxtaposition Arts offers a space for young people to flourish and develop through free art education programming. The program encompasses a city block at the intersections of Broadway and Emerson Avenues. It serves young people aged 10 to 22 in North Minneapolis. Cummings believes that this space is important because of the disdain that many people seem to have towards North Minneapolis.

 “On the news, when you hear references to North Minneapolis, it’s almost always in a negative light,” Cummings said. “We are trying to change that perception.” 

Cummings suggested that part of the reason for this negative view is because people see the North Minneapolis population as being pitiable or in need. She is determined to create a space where people can push back against that perception. 

Once the young artists have gone through the free visual arts training offered, they have the opportunity to apply for a paid position in JXTALab, a program that facilitates youth apprenticeships with professional artists. This experiential form of education ties into Juxtaposition Arts’s philosophy of “learning by doing,” a teaching method that Cummings said, “taps into the old, tried and true methods that work.” 

When Juxtaposition Arts had to demolish one of its buildings, they started a Kickstarter campaign to build a community gathering space in its place. Cummings had a grand vision for the space, imagining “a space that’s active, where young people are engaging in recreation, and where we and our neighbors could dream about what the space could be.” This space, which formally opened in June of this year, was a skate park complemented by a bright, colorful mural, where young people could gather, skateboard, and engage in creative work.

After sharing about Juxtaposition Art’s impact on the North Minneapolis community, Cummings proclaimed her passion for art, stating that “the arts are permeable. Many people can participate in them. The arts are attractive. The arts are like a magnet. The arts allow everyone to be involved in community development.” At the same time, she posed a warning to the audience to always remain vigilant about their understanding and engagement with the arts. 

“Our blind love of art is a blind spot,” she said. “We tend to think of artists as special, anointed, individual geniuses who cannot be understood. I would argue that arts and culture are actually the product of our collective activity, our collective genius.” 

Another blind spot that Cummings warned about was the lack of acknowledgment of the damage that art can potentially cause. 

“I think we have the tendency to portray the arts as, at their best, value-positive, as opposed to understanding that the arts can be negative and damaging,” she said. Cummings suggests a key way to challenge that idea is by being specific about what people are being uplifted through work in the arts. 

Cummings’s creative work in the North Minneapolis community has gone far in galvanizing and engaging the space and inspiring the community. Likewise, she has inspired the Augsburg community with her wisdom, experience and activism.