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Longfellow neighborhood finds healing through art, community after unrest

Minneapolis' Longfellow neighborhood is coming together around an art installation created out of the community's own messages of hope and resilience.

Fifteen months after the murder of George Floyd led to widespread destruction, Minneapolis' Longfellow neighborhood came together around a unique art installation created out of the community's own messages of hope and resilience.

On Wednesday night, Artist Angela Two Stars wove handwritten notes bearing inspirational messages, Bible verses and illustrations into a large cocoon sculpture at the site of the former Minnehaha Liquors, which burned down on the same night as the Minneapolis Police Department's Third Precinct.

"This art is part of the community being able to come back together and reflect after everything that happened last year and all the destruction and devastation and trauma that occurred," Two Stars said. "It's kind of a metaphor for the community in this transition stage - change that they are experiencing - and then they are going to be rebuilding healthy, as a butterfly would come out of a cocoon."

Looking at the sculpture, it's hard to appreciate how much the location has changed from just a year ago.

 "It was a really difficult time and I think that's something the community can really attest to, and that's what this art piece was really meant to reflect, is it's the voices of the community that's creating this art piece," Two Stars said.

Ruhel Islam is one of those community voices. As the president of Longfellow Rising, and the owner of Ghandi Mahal restaurant, he is hoping to rebuild following the fires that destroyed his building last year. In the meantime, he has opened a new "Curry in a Hurry" concept restaurant several blocks away, and has created a community garden and healing space on his empty lot.

"Today we feel much better. It's not easy but a lot of change will happen," Islam said.

When you look around Longfellow, you can see very easily what has changed. Places like Target, AutoZone and Wendy's all bounced back quickly, but this particular area is still very empty.

"The Wendy's, the Target, they had their architectural design already set up," Islam said. "What we're going to build is a 21st-Century building here, so it's not going to be the same thing. It's almost like restarting our life."

It took a full year for Islam to navigate the process of demolishing his building and planting his garden. Though he could have sold to developers, he says Longfellow Rising is working to develop the area with the community in mind.
For him, that means partnering with Pangea World Theater on a multi-year year plan to build a restaurant and theater that will still connecting to the land through a greenhouse, solar garden and seed bank.

"It's not easy, but it's not impossible," Islam said. "My main thing is, keep everybody united, so we can make it happen. Always, no matter what happens, we have to stay positive. We have to keep calm and curry on. Keep calm and move forward. Yesterday was yesterday, we're working today for a better tomorrow."

And like the cocoon next door, it's growth worth waiting for.

"Really, it's about having an opportunity to reconsider," Two Stars said. "What are we going to rebuild? How are we going to rebuild? What's going to be different? What's going to be better?"

The Transition Stage art sculpture will be available for public view at the corner of Lake and Minnehaha through the end of September.

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