Juxtaposition Arts transforms urban community from bleak to vibrant
By Dwight Hobbes
There are people who think the arts are a waste of money during hard times, especially in economically and socially challenged environments, the inner city.
They are dead wrong. DeAnna Dodds Cummings, executive director and cofounder of Juxtaposition Arts (JXTA), will tell you so in no uncertain terms and her organization is longstanding proof — 17 years worth.
Located in North Minneapolis, providing positive options for youngsters to realize a gainful future, the organization, which began as a grassroots initiative funded out of three individuals’ pockets, now is a prevailing agent of social change as well as economic empowerment. It was launched as the proverbial leap of faith.
“We didn’t have any idea what we were doing. We just started. We asked our parents, our neighbors to be on our board of directors,” Cummings states. So, they weren’t quite flying blind.
“We researched and read up on it. At that time, I was working on the Council on Black Minnesotans. I’ve always been sort of business minded and really a person who is able to plan out a vision, where I’m trying to go. And then able to figure out how to [execute] it. Also, very long-term thinking. The three of us had different strengths [with] a shared philosophy.”
Between native wit, coupled with figuring things out as they went along, and Cummings’ intuitive foresight, things have not gone too badly at all. “JXTA makes an impact and a difference in the community in a few ways: through [adolescent] individual artists coming through who got a sense of who they are and what they have to offer the world; how their gifts and talents might be used to create a pathway that they envision for themselves. [From] higher education, to a career in the arts, to create a life even if they don’t [continue in the arts].”
As JXTA has grown, the surrounding locale at Broadway and Emerson Avenue has flourished as a direct result. “We took two years to rehab the building. From there, we started impacting the physical space around our building as well as redeveloping other properties on that corner. As our programs grew…the community said, ‘We are interested, we need more of what you’re providing,’ we expanded to the other buildings.
“In addition, if you come to [that] corner, you notice [the difference].” Importantly, abandoned, boarded-up buildings, the stereotypical eyesores plaguing many urban neighborhoods, are being salvaged and put to constructive use whether by JXTA or other organizations.
For instance, “Urban Homeworks [has] moved in. They’ve become the go-to organization for redevelopment on the North Side. There’s something about the arts moving into a community that makes an area that previously looked bleak, deserted, dangerous [now look] good, vibrant, exciting and energized.”
There’s also been the vital intangible of Juxtaposition Arts’ attitude in approaching the endeavor. “We had a hand in it by our committed presence.” The “we” of whom she speaks is Cummings, her husband Roger Cummings and Peyton Russell. “We were all friends since high school,” and got it in their heads to invest their energies and resources — each working day jobs when they started JXTA — in the community’s well being, specifically the community’s future, the young, offering a detour around the dead-end lives unimaginative minds expect them to fulfill.
The formal description of Juxtaposition Arts you can find on DeAnna Dodds Cummings curriculum vitae, the fancy word for a long, impressive résumé. Officially, JXTA is a “multi-disciplinary arts and cultural center located in one of the youngest, most diverse, most resilient, and most economically, socially and physically disadvantaged neighborhoods in the Twin Cities.
“Juxtaposition Arts engages local youth as leaders, learners and active participants to realize and grow their talents and connect with peers, mentors and resources as they improve their community and progress along a pathway to success in future education and professional pursuits.” In plainer language, far from being a luxury in these times it is key to strengthening people’s lives.
And, at the head is a brilliant, highly skilled, vastly experienced woman who firmly believes in making a difference. Cummings is one of six women who cofounded B-Girl Be: A Celebration of Women in Hip Hop, a program of Intermedia Arts, which attracts an international audience to the Twin Cities for a bi-annual festival, showcase and education program.
She has presented her work to diverse audiences at New York University, Harvard University School of Education, the University of Minnesota, Macalester College, and Walker Art Center. She earned her Master of Public Administration from Harvard University and is a 2007 Bush Leadership Fellow.
Cummings says that she, her husband and their friend started their organization out of “a shared experience that art had provided us a foundation to stand on in life.” They are now providing a foundation for other lives to springboard into the future.
For more information on Juxtaposition Arts, contact them at 612-588-1148 or go to www.juxtaposition.org.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.