Know your neighbors

THE WEDGE — What’s in a zip code?

In 55408, there are roughly 260 square blocks, portions of eight neighborhoods and addresses that range from the tony mansions of Lake of the Isles to the taquerias of East Lake Street.

On both sides and in between are also are many, many artists, said Bridgette Rongitsch, one of the curators of the “Minneapolis 55408” exhibition, Intermedia Arts.

“We like to call it Minneapolis’ most creative zip code,” Rongitsch said.

For a dozen years, now, “55408” has been the showcase for that creativity, an annual, nonjuried art show open to anyone who lives or works within the zip codes’ borders. It is one of those rare opportunities when creative kids and the self-taught exhibit next to established talents.

Talent abounds in the 55408 zip code, and that’s one reason Intermedia Arts moved to The Wedge in the first place, said Theresa Sweetland, executive director of Intermedia Arts. That was about 12 years ago, when area rents were relatively cheap and big, empty studio spaces were easier to find — two factors that drew artists to live there.

“It’s changed a lot since then,” Sweetland acknowledged. “I don’t live in the neighborhood, but I don’t think it’s so cheap to live here, anymore.”

Laura Zabel, executive director of Springboard for the Arts, said the area still has a very high concentration of artists — maybe the highest in the city — but that could be changing.

The St. Paul-based nonprofit provides various services to artists, from career consultation to low-interest loans. More artists contact Springboard for the Arts from the 55408 zip code than anywhere else, followed closely by zip codes for Northeast and Lower Town in St. Paul, Zabel said.

Zabel argued artists played a major role in the economic revitalization of all three of those neighborhoods. Now that they’ve helped with the dirty work of transforming urban neighborhoods, they’re being pushed out by the higher cost of living, she said.

“Now, the challenge is to really protect that population and make sure they don’t get priced out of the market,” she said.

Rongitsch said that has not happened in 55408, yet. Now in her fifth year as curator of the exhibition, she said the area is still an “exciting, viable place” to create and exhibit art.

“This year, I have to say one of the most exciting things is how many new artists have applied [to be in ‘Minneapolis 55408’],” she said.

Rongitsch and co-curator Sergio Vucci began visiting artists in their studios in December, and will meet with each of about 55 artists who applied to be in “55408.” Everyone gets to be in the show, but Rongitsch and Vucci choose which pieces ultimately end up on the walls.

The artists range in age from a 4th-grader to some seniors.

“Really experienced, sought-after artists who exhibit their work all the time are showing their work next to someone who maybe just made their very first piece of visual art, ever,” Rongitsch said, adding it is that diversity that makes the show so exciting every year.

“[You see] see all these artists who live and work in our community and it’s like, wow, you can’t ignore the impact they have on making our neighborhood what it is,” she said. go see it

“Minneapolis 55408” runs March 13–May 10 at Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave. S., with a free opening reception and community forum 7–11:30 p.m. March 14. 871-4444.