Finished Greenway Mural
Finished Greenway Mural

As they say, art builds community. MCAD staff member Heidi Hafermann ’91 has been hard at work building community throughout Minneapolis, and the results are beautiful.

We are lucky to live in a city and state that is so supportive of the arts. Minneapolis has been ranked the fifth most creative city in the nation, and arts in Minnesota have over $1 billion in economic impact annually. MCAD does not take its great location for granted—that's why students, staff, and faculty are often encouraged to get involved with art projects and organizations outside of the college's walls, and a new undergraduate engaged and public arts minor was recently rolled out.

This past summer, a well-known and well-loved Art Cellar employee, Heidi Hafermann, helped pioneer a community-building art project called the Greenway Mural Project with MCAD, the Midtown Greenway, and the Native Youth Arts Collective. I got to talk with Heidi about the experience and the group of creative people behind it. 

What do you do at MCAD?

I'm a cashier at the Art Cellar! “Leave your bags by the door, please.”

Can you describe the Greenway Mural Project and your role in it?

The Greenway Mural Project was a collaboration between MCAD, the Midtown Greenway, and the Native Youth Arts Collective (NYAC). The goal was to create a mural along the Midtown Greenway to add beauty and increase the feeling of community investment in the area.

NYAC provides arts programming for Indigenous youth ages fourteen to twenty-one; my coworker Joe Beaulieu and I have been running the collective for about three years now. This project was an opportunity for three of the NYAC students—Audie Ellis-Stone, Sofia Hernandez, and Brenna White—to work as interns, so my role was a mentor and programming coordinator.

Who else was involved?

So many other people were involved. From MCAD, Kate Mohn ’14, MFA, was the evil genius behind getting everything coordinated and finding us money! Also, Instructor Melodee Strong ’06, the lead muralist, and her assistants Jonathan Herrera ’17 and current students Patricia Jacques and Courtney Cochran. Adjunct Faculty Ed Charbonneau ’06, MFA, worked on a large-scale painting with the NYAC interns as another aspect of the MCAD and NYAC collaboration. And of course the Midtown Greenway Coalition Executive Director Soren Jensen. Many, many great and generous people!

Jonathan Herrera ’17 with young mural painters 

What was your favorite part about the project?

Joe Beaulieu and I created the NYAC to offer arts experiences and arts access to youth that are generally underserved in that type of programming. In our case, we work with Native youth. Art and art-making can seem like an inaccessible luxury, and arts institutions can feel like very colonized spaces—the students I work with don't always see them as relevant or welcoming at all. Joe and I want our students to make discoveries and have conversations with artists and arts institutions on their own terms . . . seeking an equitable conversation, and allowing the students to lead. That's a long way of saying that my favorite part of this project was watching them build their own relationships with the other collaborators. Melodee was outstanding! The youth loved working with her. Mutual respect, and a lot of laughter.

Do you have any special memories that stand out?

In terms of a special memory, probably the brainstorming sessions for the mural itself. Melodee had the great idea to feature the three young women who were the NYAC interns in the mural, to represent the idea of continuity in the Native community, and to show young urban Native faces. The conversations around the different design elements were sometimes really funny, and sometimes really profound.

Patricia Jacques with young mural painters 

Do you participate in any other public arts, education, or volunteering in the Twin Cities?

I've been a lead mentor with the NYAC for about three years now. Time flies! We do such a wide variety of things and meet so many people that the work provides a lot of variety. There's always a new collaboration or perspective. I am thrilled that MCAD is working with our students. We've spent time working in the buildings, and it's wonderful to see the youth gain confidence and familiarity with the campus. These students really are the future . . . I've said they'll be pushing my wheelchair. Arts organizations absolutely must engage in conversations with them. They'll show the way.

Finished mural along the Greenway

Detail of finished mural 

Detail of mural with artists’ signatures 

Thanks for sharing, Heidi. MCAD has received an additional grant award to continue the partnership with NYAC, so I can wait to see what they will be working on this summer.

The Greenway Mural project was a joint production of MCAD and Little Earth of United Tribes, with major funding provided by the Carolyn Foundation and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.