Minneapolis t-shirt pop ups showcase student artwork on police brutality

The sale of shirts, posters, patches and other printed items raised nearly $10,000 within the first month.

Ursula Arhart, Kristina Johnson, Cecily Bohman, Jaime Candia, Rebekah Nygard, and Nico Sardina,  from back left to front right, pose for a picture while working at the People's Library T-Shirt pop-up shop. (Photo courtesy of The People’s Library)

Andy Kosier

Ursula Arhart, Kristina Johnson, Cecily Bohman, Jaime Candia, Rebekah Nygard, and Nico Sardina,  from back left to front right, pose for a picture while working at the People’s Library T-Shirt pop-up shop. (Photo courtesy of The People’s Library)

Meg Bishop

Once a week for the last month, art-activism collective The People’s Library has asked community members to donate money to the organization in exchange for a t-shirt. One popular design depicts the Looney Toons character Porky Pig dressed as a police officer with his head in a guillotine. Printed below are the words, “That’s all folks!” designed by Noah Lawrence-Holder.

The People’s Library of Minneapolis College of Art and Design began hosting printed t-shirt pop up shops at MCAD in June. Each t-shirt showcases printed artwork from an MCAD student, chosen to be mass printed at the pop-up.

“As artists, it’s our main contribution to activism – creating art that is related to the current moment,’” said Candice Davis, an organizer of The People’s Library. 

Through a mutual aid fund and micro-grant program, the organization distributes funds raised through the pop-ups back into the community. According to Kristina Johnson, an organizer for The People’s Library, the student micro-grant program allows Black and Indigenous people, and other people of color, to apply and receive funds for essential needs. As of June 2, The People’s Library has assisted 27 individuals through the program. 

“In the wake of the pandemic and murder of George Floyd, this operated as a way for us to raise funds as quickly as possible and offer immediate relief to BIPOC members of our community,” said Johnson in an email to the Minnesota Daily.

Organizers arrange the pop-ups — which run for about four hours once a week — a few days in advance. T-shirt designs change by the week. Times and days of the pop-ups can be found through The People’s Library Instagram account. 

“We’ve sold over 300 shirts and have gathered a little under $10,000 within the month our pop-up tent was operating at MCAD,” Johnson said in the email.

After finding the t-shirt pop-ups to be a success, the organization began to print on posters, patches, tie-dyed socks and underwear.

Everyone who works at The People’s Library are volunteers. “We all do everything,” said Kehayr Brown, one of The People’s Library donation redistribution planners.

The People’s Library was founded in 2014 as a small-group book club of MCAD alumni. The collective’s planning quad consists of Brown, Candice Davis, Nancy Hicks and Nico Sardina. Brown began volunteering with the organization in 2017 and sees The People’s Library as almost his full-time job. 

A group of members went to the Standing Rock protests in 2016 and from there, the activism side of the organization began to take shape. “We moved into a hands-on, grassroots, arts education role,” Brown said.

With people showing up to the pop-ups without masks, an executive decision was made to temporarily halt in-person sales due to further COVID-19 precautions.

Shirts will soon be listed on the e-commerce site Johnson manages called Backroom. Backroom will maintain all product sales going to the micro-grant fund. The group prioritizes fund distribution transparency with the public to show that its work is going directly back into the community.

“My dream is for The People’s Library to be a sustainable print-based work environment for all of its members,” Johnson said in the email.