In coming weeks, a new project will begin taking shape in north Minneapolis. It’ll look like a basketball court, yet offer farm fresh food and some peaceful spots to sit. And it will help mitigate water pollution.
It’s a collaboration among the Walker Art Center, an Iowa-based artist and a local urban farm organization.
Marcus Kar, director of programming in north Minneapolis for the nonprofit Youth Farm organization, described a lot that he leases from the city of Minneapolis on Lyndale Avenue North. It’s been derelict since a tornado tore through the neighborhood in 2011.
“Oh yeah, there used to be a house stand on there,” said Kar.
But soon — time, seasons and pandemic notwithstanding — it will be the site of an urban farm, a community project and an artwork commissioned by the Walker Art Center. Its name: “Prototype for poetry vs rhetoric (deep roots).”
The Walker’s Nisa Mackie says some elements will be sculptural. “The installation itself will be a garden in the shape of a basketball court,” she said. “So when you look at the site plan, from a bird’s eye view, you can see it’s kind of got the line markings.”
At ground level, those markings delineate planting beds, pathways and places where you can just sit and take it all in.
It’s designed by Des Moines, Iowa-based artist Jordan Weber. He’s an environmental artist who works on social justice issues and community organizing. He’s also a former collegiate hoops player.
Weber is creating sculptures that will stand in the place of the hoops themselves. He says they will act as rain-catchers that will funnel water into the gardens around them. Not only will this water the plants, it will also help counteract, at least a little, some of the industrial pollution in the neighborhood.
“And also below each of those hoops we’ll have these meditation rocks made of black obsidian,” he said. “So you’ll have these kind of points where you can actually interact with the project.”
“The more vacant lots you activate to mitigate pollution, from the soil, water and air, the more health benefits it’s going to have on our brown, black and Indigenous populations that are really overexposed to pollutants,” he said.
Both Weber and Kar say the quiet spots are important in an area such as north Minneapolis, where green space is at a premium. And of course this will also be a farm, growing vegetables and herbs, which Kar says are needed locally.
“North Minneapolis is considered a food desert,” he said. “There’s only a few grocery stores, very far apart from each other.”
This is a multilayered project that draws together many different ideas and desires. Weber said it was carefully designed using local input over the last year.
“It was over 80 or 90 meetings with representatives of the north side, and leaders of the north side to really pinpoint a project that would be beneficial for the north side community in general,” he said.
The plan was to have the work well underway by now, but as with so many other things, the coronavirus has reshaped the project timeline. Instead of a grand groundbreaking, Weber and Mackie will launch the project with a live discussion on the Walker’s Instagram account at noon Wednesday.
The clearing, building and planting will happen in smaller increments in coming months, with workers socially distanced and wearing protective gear.
Even then, Kar hopes it will be to the community’s benefit, especially by paying local young people to do the work. “I want to give a stipend and create supplemental impact as part of this project, so that people can see themselves in it,” he said. “And drive by and say, ‘Hey, I helped on that. I was a part of that.'”
While things will take shape slowly, the project organizers plan a big opening next year.