Midway Murals kicks off with theme ‘starting anew’

Public artwork transforms Midway neighborhood with a community-based vision.

by Mary Reller

Snelling Avenue is getting a facelift.

Four artists are transforming a half-mile stretch of the Hamline Midway neighborhood in St. Paul into community-themed public art with the intent of livening up the area.

University of Minnesota graduate student Jonathan Oppenheimer is leading the project, called “Midway Murals.” Its launch party is on Friday.

As a resident of the neighborhood, he said he wanted to unite the community, beautify the area and stimulate economic development within local businesses.

“I really wanted to come up with an idea that would bridge cultural divides, engage the community and promote economic development,” Oppenheimer said.

Gene Gelgelu, executive director of African Economic Development Solutions and Midway Murals supporter, said he hopes the project will increase the area’s foot traffic.

“We want people to stop, not drive by,” he said. “Anything that helps improve the neighborhood will promote our city.”

Muralist Lori Greene, who’s responsible for creating one of the project’s four murals, said some people in the community might not be visiting the intersection’s shops because they simply don’t know what they’re about.

“[People in the neighborhood] feel like they can’t go in because they don’t know anything about [the cultures of the shops],” Greene said. “If we put these exciting pieces of art up, we hope that people will go, ‘Oh I can go in there!’ even if they don’t know what it is.”

The project’s artists will finish the murals in August, and on Friday they are hosting a free launch party at the Turf Club to kick it off.

The community is invited to stop by, talk with the artists and donate to the project — which has been budgeted at $85,000.

The project was selected as a finalist for the Knight Arts Challenge grant.

Besides providing grant money, the foundation promotes art funding. Knight Arts is awarding Oppenheimer a $25,000 challenge grant, with the stipulation that he raises funds to match the amount.

“It was very important to me that I pay artists a decent wage … so that they’re able to support themselves, and also to be able to fund the events around the project, Oppenheimer said. “So that’s where all the money is going.”

And even after matching the $25,000 amount, Oppenheimer must raise another $35,000 to cover the project’s total costs, which include a clear coating over the murals to protect them from graffiti, he said.

Since the Midway neighborhood is a busy area, it’s a hotspot for taggers.

“It bothered me because people would work hard to make [their] small businesses operate, and they’d get defaced,” Oppenheimer said.

And the city would paint over the graffiti, only to have it vandalized again, he said.

But taggers generally don’t cover up public art, Oppenheimer said.

“They respect it,” he said.

With the project, Oppenheimer hopes to unify the community and make people feel more comfortable in the neighborhood.

“Every day is a new day. Whether you come from a family that came here 100 years ago or one that came here a few years ago — when you come to a new place [you constantly have] to see the world differently and connect with people in new ways,” Oppenheimer said. “This project is happening because I have confidence that we will find a way to raise the money that we need [for it].”


What: Midway Murals Launch Party

When: Friday, 4-7 p.m.

Where: 1601 University Ave. W., St. Paul

Cost: Free