“We didn’t realize we could do it until we actually did it”: a question-and-answer session with Roger Cummings of Juxtaposition Arts

Last month, Arts of juxtaposition (JXTA) inaugurated construction of a new $ 12.9 million campus in northern Minneapolis. The black-run arts education nonprofit was founded in 1995, when Roger and DeAnna Cummings, along with Peyton Scott Russell, started a small after-school arts program. JXTA has since provided training to young people on how to create, present and successfully monetize their art, and the long-awaited reconstruction is expected to begin in late October after a three-year fundraising campaign. MinnPost spoke to Roger Cummings, one of the co-founders and current chief cultural producer of JXTA, about the road to the new building and the direction the organization is taking from here. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

MinnPost: Tell me exactly how you got started.

Roger Cummings: So it started as a kind of after-school program that showed young people how to create art, how to talk about art, how to exhibit art and how to make money with their art. The closest program we have now is called Visual Arts Literacy Training, so you do things like still life, you do portraiture, you learn line, balance, color, scale and proportion, art history, how to talk about work, how to get feedback, how to give feedback, then how to display and hang your work, price your work and things like that. And at the time nobody did that!

Art was just a cute thing, maybe at the park house, and anyone who thought their friends or kids were artists was like, “Oh, they’re gonna be broke and live in somebody’s basement. given moment. And we didn’t believe it. We knew you could make money doing this, and we would train young people to not be broke. Our thing was how do you monetize your practice? We were able to sell the youth work from the start – from the first shows until today – they would get about 85% of what they were selling for. So eight, nine, ten years old was making two, three, four hundred, five hundred dollars. We would open a bank account for them, and it would help the parents, and it would help them get school clothes and like it all. It made sense to them, it made sense to us, and it was doing a service we didn’t realize we could do until we actually did.

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MP: Between your beginnings as an after-school program and your current situation, was there ever an “aha! When you realized it was going to be something bigger?

RC: Yes, and it probably happened in 2003-04. We started to travel to different places. When we moved here in 2002, in 2007 North Emerson [Avenue], we started doing programs for a year or two, and then we looked around. There are a lot of condemned buildings, and we’re jumping here and it’s beautiful and shiny but the neighborhood isn’t improving. What can we do to improve this? … So we started looking at places that were art centers but had an impact on the neighborhood, and we started saying “What can the artwork do? And we should exit our gallery.

That’s when we started doing a lot of environmental design and community engagement … [We] asked people what is really working here and what is not working well here and what are the solutions to be able to fix it… We started to get a list of things that we could improve. We could make benches, we could paint crosswalks, and we could advocate for people the city didn’t know [about]. So the city hired us for things like that, and that’s how we started to have an impact on the natural built environment.

Roger cummings

It was a bit like the “aha” moment. It’s more than pretty paintings on the wall, it’s the natural environment built, and we also saw that in these organizations there were engines, there were things that generated money, besides. beyond art. We created these things that we call labs, which are like little business units, and they made money for the courses. Then we could pay the young people a stipend, then an hourly wage, and now we can even pay the part-timers health insurance, dental insurance, power take-off, things like that.

Then we went to school so that we could improve our education and understand how we could actually evolve. … When we came back we really started to take off and started bringing people from all over the world to watch what we’re doing, to get some ideas and to expand some of that work.

MP: If you could, in one sentence, how would you describe what JXTA is now?

RC: It is a center of art and design allowing young people to actualize their economic and creative power. People come from all over. You have kids from private schools, you have homeless kids, and everyone in between. It affects both of them, in that even though you have a trust fund, when you make your own money, it’s validation. It also dispels the myth that if you come up north you’re going to get robbed or you’re going to be in trouble or whatever. I have been here since I was young, as a teenager, shopping and living here. I wasn’t robbed, I wasn’t shot or anything. Young people see this. Every day – on campus or here when it’s dark – they take the bus home, and everyone is safe. It’s a safe space, it’s an educational space, and it’s an innovative creative space.

MP: Regarding the planning of the new building, when did you start to think this was going to happen?

RC: So, just pie, we’ve always thought about having a building. In the mid-90s, it looked more like the Memphis pyramid… Everyone was like “No, don’t buy a building, it’s going to cost too much”, all that. In 2002, probably… an old friend of mine from high school – who was going to school in Parsons and graduate school to be an architect – came over and thought these are all the things you can do with your new space. . I heard that you were buying a building, even if it’s condemned, I do architecture on the concept of hip hop… He kept pumping that and analyzing the neighborhood, and then [he and others] launched the environmental design arm of JXTA. Then we would have graphic design, environmental design, screen printing and contemporary art. … He did sort of a sculptural element of a giant wheel from 2007, 2017, 2027 and beyond, and you could see the block evolving.

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He helped make that visually manifest, and then DeAnna helped: that’s what it would take to get that kind of money and get that kind of space. We did feasibility studies and people would say, “Yeah, no, you’re never going to collect that kind of money,” then we’d ask what it took to raise that kind of money … These are the things we do. had in mind when we went to graduate school and started putting these things in place. It was just very tedious over the years, little by little, renovating a space, one of the storefronts, another when we came back from high school, bought this building. It really had a strategic impact, little by little. We wanted to do it all at once, but people didn’t think we were competent to do it. … It just took a long time to convince people that this could really happen. It’s been a long time, I wish I could have done it sooner.

MP: Has COVID changed anything for you guys?

RC: What COVID did was make us be very intentional about our workspaces, and so we could be eight feet apart, and that’s how we walk in space, so orienting ourselves . It just got us to be more intentional and it got us to be “to scale” the right way. We interrupted some courses, we didn’t fire anyone, so we kept everyone. We thought this was going to be important because with the uprising and with COVID, people were kind of mentally shaken. We wanted to bring some consistency. I think being able to bring some consistency in the form of jobs and things like that helped people get through that time. … I don’t mean to say it hurt us, it just made us be more intentional in what we do. I think the uprising probably had a bigger impact.

MP: In what way?

RC: People who didn’t know we existed began to know we existed. For some reason, he just didn’t click that fairness matters. When you see people doing developments all over town, nobody really thinks that there are brown people behind that conception of development, ownership of development or anything of that. It is therefore important to have a diversified economy that elevates all boats a little. It got people to think about it a bit in a different way, like we have to invest in institutions so that everyone can have buildings, businesses, start-up capital if they have good ideas, access to very closed things. If you’ve made an invention or created a product, how can you fit that into a target or a best buy? The type of uprising opened some of those doors and lifted the veil on the mystery. … I think it kind of turned on the light, in a way, which I think is a good thing. We’ll see what happens. … I am optimistic and delighted that this next generation is really, really shifting that needle to social justice and fairness that I have never seen before.

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MP: How do you feel now that you have really innovated?

RC: It’s really liberating, and like we’re going to be able to leave something to this next group of creatives that they can leverage beyond what we envisioned. I think it feels good. It’s a bit scary too, to fund things of this magnitude. … With the right feeling, I also feel a little apprehension. Things can’t go wrong because it’s all at stake. I’m happy and also a little nervous at the same time.

MP: What are you most looking forward to with the new building?

RC: I look forward to creating more pipelines towards manufacturing, innovation, human-centered design and workforce development in arts education. We can employ more people, we can train more people, we can bring more people into this STEM pipeline and into the entrepreneurial pipeline. At present, we cannot do this because we do not have the space to house the [equipment], so we can show people what we’re really doing. This is what I look forward to, whether it is a strong center of manufacturing and talent here at Emerson and on Broadway that we hope we can replicate in other states or countries. That’s the point !

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