BY DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE
Spring is coming on for real now; my allergies tell me so. Despite allergies and other struggles, spring is very beautiful along Minnehaha Avenue this year. It’s culturally blooming, lush with arts, community-building, and the fusion of the two. In addition to our old favorites like Moon Palace Books, the Hook and Ladder, and Ricardo Levins Morales Art Studio, there are some lesser-known cultural spots (some new, some newish, some just recently discovered) which we will highlight here. Let’s do it geographically.
Starting at the Seward end of the avenue is the building at 2200 Minnehaha, which houses two interesting places. The first is Soomaal House of Art, a collective of Somali artists. The Cities are full of small art collectives that boost the work of BIPOC and other less empowered communities, including some others we will mention shortly, but as far as I know, this is the first one just for Somali artists. Their website includes a shopping site, a little history, and bios of the founders and staff: www.soomaalhouse.com.
The other is called the Feminist Book Club (FBC). Now you might wonder why a book club needs a brick-and-mortar presence,
whether feminist or not. Well, FBC is more than just a book club. Minnesota Monthly magazine featured Renee Powers, founder of FBC, in a piece in April 2022 which said: “For the FBC, monthly Zoom meetings are just the tip of the iceberg. In online community groups, members can also regularly discuss feminist issues and … the FBC creates content to engage the community in feminist discussions through a newsletter, podcast, and blog.”
With these added value services, the FBC has become a business as well as a community. Members can pay a subscription to receive each book of the month, optionally including a themed goodie box of products from women-, BIPOC-, or queer-owned producers. The storefront location serves as an office, outlet store and community center, and there is also an online outlet store with Pango Books.
Just a block away is 2213 Snelling Ave., also known as the Focus Arts Building, which houses a handful of small arts organizations. One of these is Threads Dance Project, a professional dance company founded by Karen Charles in 2011. Charles’s career in dance, choreography, arts education and arts organization leadership, including awards and fellowships, is too extensive to cover here, so check out the website of Threads Dance Project to learn more. Sign up for the newsletter if you don’t want to miss future performances.
Another at the same building is Red Eye Theater. Red Eye was founded in 1983 and led for 35 years by Steve Busa and Miriam Must. Since 2019, Red Eye has been led by a group of seven artistic directors in a collaborative leadership model.
In 2021, Red Eye Theater moved into the Focus Arts Building, which is managed by neighborhood nonprofit Seward Redesign. They built a 3000-square-foot black box theater to contain their ongoing project, which is described as an artistic lab. They just had the grand opening of the space on April 29. Upcoming works include the long-running series “New Works 4 Weeks,” in which four new works are showcased in four consecutive weeks. The series starts on May 25.
Moving south along Minnehaha, the next spot we come to, at 2501 Minnehaha Ave. on the southern edge of the Seward neighborhood, reflects the culture of community and caring. This is Chuck and Don’s Pet Wellness Center, the newish home of the People and Pets Together pet food shelf, additionally partnered with animal welfare organization Secondhand Hounds, and also offering veterinary care and more to pets whose people are housing insecure or in financial straits. The objective of the nonprofit organization is to keep beloved pets with their families, regardless of their economic and housing situation, which according to their mission “allows rescues to concentrate on truly homeless animals.”
Crossing Lake Street, we come to Wildflyer Coffee at 3262 Minnehaha Ave. If that address sounds familiar, it’s because it used to be the longtime home of Peace Coffee’s first and largest coffee shop. And since it didn’t really change that much in appearance and flavor, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s still the same. But Wildflyer has one key difference: it’s not solely in the business of making and selling coffee. It’s in the business of saving homeless youth from a downward spiral and giving them a chance to thrive as adults – through the making and selling of coffee.
Through numerous partnerships, Wildflyer offers youth between the ages of 16 and 24 a four-month training and counseling program that includes a regular shift at one of the two Wildflyer Coffee shops (there is now one in St. Paul as well), barista training, coffee industry training, soft skills, financial literacy, problem solving and employment readiness. Wildflyer on Minnehaha is still the same pleasant, chill hangout with superlative coffee, but now additionally you are contributing to a cause just by spending money there.
Proceeding ever southward, we come to Black Table Arts Cooperative at 3737 Minnehaha Ave. This is just what it sounds like – a cooperative of Black artists. Here’s a brief description of Black Table Arts from their website: “Black Table Arts is a community-driven arts cooperative … gathering black communities through the arts toward better black futures. BTA makes bold the connection between art and grassroots organizing by providing programs that invite local artists to see themselves as change-makers and organizers of their collective liberation.” Founded by Keno Evol, the Black Table Arts space includes a bookstore, private meeting rooms, shared workspace, and a performance space. You can learn more about them at www.blacktablearts.org or on the Facebook page Black Table Arts Co-op.
The last stop on our southward journey is Minnehaha Recording Company at 4501 Minnehaha Ave. Minnehaha Recording’s studio was built in 2014 by the studio’s founders, who gutted and rehabbed the building which had once housed a sporting goods and air gunsmith company, and was originally built as a gas and service station in the
1930s. They really must know what they’re doing because the business has grown beyond recording and way beyond the already copious boundaries of the Twin Cities music world.
Not only does their photo wall of artists who have recorded with them stretch past 100, but simply their list of available services is mind-boggling, including audiobooks, voiceovers, podcast production, location filming and forensic audio. Oh, and they have merch, because everybody has to have merch. It’s T-shirts, though, not recordings.