The making of Art Street

Click here for an audio slideshow on this story 

It took four days, dozens of professional artists, hundreds of volunteers and countless brush strokes, but it’s done.

Nicollet Avenue from 31st Street to 45th Street is reborn. Ten walls once blank or graffiti-laden are now bright with colorful depictions of Minneapolis’ past after one of the largest public art creations in the city’s history.  

The Walldogs on Nicollet project, put on from July 24–27 by the Kingfield Neighborhood Association (KFNA) and Lyndale Neighborhood Association (LNA), was a mural project organized to prevent graffiti, beautify the area, bring the community together and re-brand south Nicollet “Art Street,” just as Nicollet to the north is known as Eat Street for its restaurants.    

To do the job, KFNA and LNA recruited Walldogs — professional mural and sign artists who keep their trade alive painting towns at organized meets — from throughout the U.S. and
one team from Canada.

Most Walldog meets are in rural towns, so the Nicollet project was a first for many of the artists. But the meet still carried a tight-knit community feel.  

“I think the neighborhood is like a small town within a city,” said Kingfield resident and local artist Roberta Avidor, who volunteered to help paint a mural paying homage to explorer and cartographer Joseph Nicollet on the Gray’s Leather building at 34th & Nicollet. “Minneapolis, like a lot of places, is made up of several neighborhoods, and each has its own flavor.”

The murals on Nicollet were designed to serve as windows to the past, depicting long-gone landmarks, famous individuals and other Minneapolis history. Sites were handpicked based on graffiti problems, location and other factors.   

Artists worked with LNA and KFNA to design the murals and volunteers helped paint them in record time. Only two of the 10 works of art still needed finishing touches after the meet officially ended.  

 “I’ve been impressed with the neighborhood associations and their dedication to pulling the community together,” said Randy Szarzynski, a Minneapolis graphic designer who designed the Joseph Nicollet Mural.

Amy Reisdorf, a Lyndale resident who hosted an artist for the weekend, said she wanted to be part of creating a lasting contribution to her neighborhood.

“We’re mostly out because I wanted my kids to be able to drive by 10 years from now and point out and say, ‘That lady right there is the lady I helped to paint. That’s the place I put my hand in the can of paint and got all sticky,’” she said.

David Butler, an Indiana sign painter who led the creation of a mural depicting Nicollet Baseball Park, which closed in 1955, on the B-Squad Vintage building at 35th & Nicollet, said community-building is just as much a part of Walldogs meets as the artwork.

“I don’t really think of it so much as leaving my mark on the neighborhood,” he said. “A community leaves its mark on us. What happens is that you almost become part of the community as people come by and hear your comments, and then you introduce yourself to them and see them the next day, and you build a connection. I feel like I’ve left more with what they give me than what I’ve given them.”

Mark Hinds, LNA’s executive director, said the energy generated during the mural project has given the neighborhood momentum to carry into other efforts to revitalize Nicollet.

“In eight years of doing neighborhood stuff, I have never in my life seen anything that got more people involved who have never been involved in their neighborhood before,” he said. “As far as an outreach tool, this was a success, I think beyond our wildest dreams.”