Breathing New Life on Lake Street

Using their artistic skills and connections, community members are working together to reawaken Lake Street.

WORDS BY SOFIA HAAN

Minneapolis’s Lake Street has faced years of challenges following the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd. While action groups such as The Lake Street Council have worked toward the restoration, many lots still look desolate, surrounded by chain-link fences. However, that picture of Lake Street is changing: Through the installation of “Dream Sequence”  at Elsa’s House of Sleep, community arts organization 36 A.R.T. is painting a new picture of this multicultural corridor. 

36th A.R.T. (Avenue Revitalization and Transformation), a neighborhood volunteer group organized by Jack Becker, addresses safety and aesthetics along the corridor. With more than 40 years of public art experience, installation curator Becker has an eye for community art. After his retirement, Becker was invited to a neighborhood committee to help complete an art project under a bridge on Lake Street. “That’s what got me started,” Becker explains. “In my own neighborhood, thinking about how I can use my skills to help bring public art to my neighborhood in a way that would be beneficial.” Through this lens, he noticed Elsa’s House of Sleep, a boarded-up building at the corner of East Lake Street and 36th Avenue.

Originally opened by Eritrean immigrant and entrepreneur Elsa Rezene, the furniture store closed in 2019. But Rezene’s son, Tetra Constantino, manages the current store on University Avenue—and an upcoming redesign of this Lake Street location, in an effort to reopen it. So Constantino agreed to Becker’s curated art installation at the currently shuttered shop while it’s in transition. 

Titled “Dream Sequences,” the name not only honors Rezene’s business name, but is also inspired by a quote from the late businesswoman: “It’s never too late to start dreaming.” 

Eight local artists contributed works to the project: Ta-coumba T. Aiken, Ron Brown, Gordon Coons, Jordan M. Hamilton, Christopher Harrison, Katrina Knutson, Hawona Sullivan Janzen, and Zarra TM. At the site, digital enlargements of art are mounted onto plywood and attached to fencing around the building with QR codes and signage explaining the artwork. Most prominent is a 52-foot mural on canvas painted by artist and friend of Rezene’s, Ta-coumba Aiken. 

For Becker and 36th A.R.T., “Dream Sequences” represents a step forward in the progress of rebuilding Lake Street while honoring the people who helped create the vibrancy of this neighborhood. “Instead of just beautifying a blighted corner of Lake Street, it became the celebration of the reawakening of a Black-owned business,” says Becker. “We want others to believe that it’s true: That it’s never too late to start dreaming.” 

WHEN YOU GO: 

Elsa’s House of Sleep, corner of 36th Avenue and Lake St.

Available and free to the public until April 20.

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