Frogtown Art Fest connects, informs

Photo by Tiffany Johnson 2019 Frogtown Community Arts Festival on Sept. 21

The Frogtown Neighborhood Association (FNA) transformed an empty lot into a beautiful community space for its fourth annual Frogtown Community Arts Festival. The festival is an annual celebration of the arts and entrepreneurship emerging from the local community.

On University Avenue between Victoria and Avon on Sept. 21 you could find an eclectic mix of entrepreneurs, food, live music, and all-around good vibes. 

“I don’t know what’s in the water here, but there’s just a lot of talent that comes out of this area, a lot of history,” says Mychal Batson. Batson, known commonly as Myc Dazzle, is a designer and strategist of creative solutions firm Discover Dope and has been working with the FNA on their housing and land use initiatives.

Matt Jarvi, lead organizer for the Frogtown Community Arts Festival, began his relationship with the FNA working as a DJ for their Neon Nights festival in 2014. His collaborative spirit and local network has allowed him to connect FNA with key partners in the arts and community that make the Frogtown Community Arts Festival as impactful as possible.

“My hope is that we are creating a culture of coming together and working together, getting to know each other, and holding space for new things to happen,” Jarvi said.

The FNA strategically uses art and its influence as not just entertainment, but also a mode of communication, engagement and outreach. This is especially valuable in a community as diverse as Frogtown.

The organization attempts to reflect this with its Small Area Plan “SmaPl: a Living Document,” an official city planning document submitted to the City of St. Paul that is formatted as a graphic novel. The FNA uses this as a creative way to effectively communicate community-influenced policy plans to anyone, whether community members or City officials.

“When we’re talking about decisions that are being made in our communities, we are also speaking in a different language. The artist is the one that is interpreting that gap,” said Tia Williams, co-director of the Frogtown Neighborhood Association along with Caty Royce.

Desdamona, an MC, writer and educator, also participated in the festival. While not a native of Frogtown, her lyricism has helped shape the hip-hop and arts scene throughout the state of Minnesota for years.

“I like to do stuff like this because I want to be connected to the community. It’s important to be learning about what’s happening in the city and who’s involved,” Desdamona said.

Leveraging the opportunity to connect directly with community members, the FNA also used the annual arts festival to host the FNA Board elections. “A district council historically has been mainly white men leading and white board members, but ours is one-hundred-percent reflective of our community,” said Williams.

Just two days prior to the arts festival, the FNL celebrated the grand opening of the new Frogtown Community Center (the old Scheffer Recreation Center)—“a really dope facility has a gym,” said Batson. “It’s going to have an outside court, a football field. There’s a recording studio inside. It’s multigenerational.”

While city developments like the Allianz Field soccer stadium represent the encroaching gentrification of Frogtown and surrounding areas, hope and power rest in the heart of the community. “People are energized to make sure that the development is for the community and not pushing people out,” Batson said.

As the people of Frogtown continue coming together as a community to protect and preserve the place that they call home, art remains at the center of it all. “Through participation in the arts, you realize you have power,” said Desdamona. “I can create something, and someone will listen, or look at it or touch it. And that can create change.”