Vickie Benson: Juxtaposition Arts — A history of success and primed for more

December was a big month for Juxtaposition Arts in north Minneapolis. But when an organization is an active and engaged as JXTA, aren’t they all?

Juxtaposition Arts is located near Broadway and Emerson avenues in north Minneapolis.

Juxtaposition Arts, at Broadway and Emerson avenues in north Minneapolis.

The Bush Foundation recognized JXTA among its first awardees for the annual Bush Prize for Community Innovation, which comes with a flexible grant equal to 25% of JXTA’s annual budget. And just a couple weeks earlier, Surdna Foundation, based in New York, granted $550,000 to support JXTA’s entrepreneurship and creative skills training for low-income youth. Several McKnight staff, including president Kate Wolford, attended an event celebrating Surdna’s contribution while highlighting the unique vision of the organization’s youth- and artist-powered community and economic development. McKnight was front and center at the party because we’re proud of our strong, 15-year relationship with JXTA.

Juxtaposition Arts was founded in 1995, and its mission is to develop community by engaging and employing young urban artists in hands-on education initiatives to create pathways for self-sufficiency while actualizing creative power. Since 1998, McKnight has channeled more than $1.2 million for programming, capital improvements, and general operations, and we’re proud to be part of its continuing growth.

McKnight supports Juxtaposition’s work because it is a top-notch, well-managed nonprofit organization, and its strategies intersect in valuable ways with several of McKnight’s program goals, chiefly our Arts program and our Region & Communities program.

Virdell, Namir, Jahliah, and Kayla, four participants in JXTA's Youth Apprentices program

Virdell, Namir, Jahliah, and Kayla, participants in JXTA’s Youth Apprentice program. (Photo: Rudy Arnold/Juxtaposition Arts)

Because we believe Minnesota thrives when its artists thrive, McKnight’s arts program is committed to helping working artists create and contribute to vibrant communities. JXTA was founded by Deanna Cummings with working artists Roger Cummings and Peyton Russell, who each had started and operated small, arts-based businesses as teenagers. They know firsthand the needs of young urban artists who are not yet plugged into the state’s mainstream cultural economy.

Among Juxta’s strengths is its capacity to meet young artists where they are and encourage them to grow from there. Juxta’s staff and board recognize that successful working artists take action on their ideas, so they provide a safe space for young, emerging, and mid-career artists to practice moving their ideas to development and production.

In addition to Juxtaposition’s exhibition gallery and its newly renovated JXTA Co-op next door, JuxtaLab has emerged as a great economic development driver, creating jobs for youth and young artists, providing income and asset-building strategies for artists. As the Lab continues phased renovations toward a full-fledged urban design center, young artists in paid apprenticeships create graphic designs that are transferred to textiles, t-shirts, jackets, and shoes, and then sold. Other artists work on projects in environmental design or public arts projects, all nurturing critical intersections between people, place, and possibility.

And recognizing JXTA’s huge value as a positive, stabilizing community presence, as well as its critical contributions to the revitalization of West Broadway, McKnight’s interests and commitments have gone beyond arts funding. We’ve also supported Juxta — and JuxtaLab in particular — through our Region & Communities program which works to improve regional metropolitan development for livable communities and expanded opportunities for all. When plans for JuxtaLab are fully realized in the next year or so, they will translate into nearly 20,000 square feet of new arts-focused facilities, over 75 local arts jobs annually, and valuable new cultural amenities for the whole community. Clearly a well-reasoned investment, and aimed right at the heart of McKnight’s regional development goals.

Deanna and Roger Cummings, Juxtaposition's Executive and Artistic directors, respectively

Deanna and Roger Cummings (center), JXTA’s executive and artistic directors, respectively.

Juxtaposition’s 2010-2016 strategic goal is to increase the role of artists as the foundation and catalyst for creating a more vibrant, equitable, socially connected, and economically sustainable North Minneapolis and Twin Cities area. Since 2004, JXTA has actively pursued an arts-based community development agenda in North Minneapolis, with smart plans to put the agenda in action. JXTA developed opportunities for artists to work with local officials, city and county staff, neighborhood organizations, higher education partners, and resident leaders on neighborhood improvement and policy initiatives. Beyond connecting the arts and community, their programs seamlessly weave artists into our community’s fabric. JXTA’s work develops opportunities, builds bridges across networks and disciplines, and gives underserved artists access to important resources.

A 2011 study by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy documents that arts nonprofits serving or led by people of color face greater challenges than others in sustaining growth. And yet through clear vision, wise leadership, and seriously hard work, JXTA is expanding its commitment to do even more to provide space, services, and key resources for young artists and our cultural community.

I am delighted to be joined by Surdna, Bush, and other philanthropic colleagues in celebration of JXTA’s inspired goals and innovative approach.


VLB_mck0089_c Vickie Benson
Arts Program Director