“It’s the People” Public Art Project
Inspired by the people whose experiences and stories create the unique vibrancy of Hennepin Avenue, It’s the People is a major outdoor public art project that captures the heart and soul of Minneapolis’ most famous street.
Now in its second year, these large-scale portraits join existing murals and public art projects in the District with captivating portraits shot by renowned Minnesota artists showcasing themes including identity, empowerment, trans equity, community outreach through violence prevention and social justice for missing and murdered indigenous women. These will be displayed first on Clear Channel Outdoor billboards in downtown Minneapolis and, later this year, on large-scale banners adorning five downtown buildings.
“Public art plays a crucial role in transforming the spaces outside our historic theatres into new stages as an outdoor gallery for everyone,” said Mark Nerenhausen, president and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust. “Following last year’s inaugural launch, we have a new collection of art in the Hennepin Theatre District by compelling and though-provoking artists with powerful stories.”
The artists for It’s the People possess the expertise in portrait photography meant to capture and highlight the people who make Hennepin Avenue a unique place. Joan Vorderbruggen, director of Hennepin Theatre District engagement for the Trust, said, “These artists are not only providing breathtaking images, they’re telling amazing stories in a new way that will bring appreciation to the historic legacy of Hennepin Avenue.”
Artist Nikki McComb, who has a long history of combining art with violence prevention as a community leader, used her portrait as a way to showcase the unsung heroes on the front line who work to end gun violence through community outreach. “Art, and the means of artistic process, can aid in trauma-informed care,” McComb said. For those who are affected by gun violence with friends or family members who have been shot or killed, McComb says that they don’t get to tell those stories without backlash or tears. “I use my skills to allow them to tell their stories through photographs.”
Vorderbruggen also emphasized that the need to instill a sense of pride and togetherness is vital during times of uncertainty and unrest. She said, “by adding a human element to urban environments, we’re creating a sense of community in physical spaces.”
Photographer Ryan Coit captures beauty in all types of individuals using the human form to express their sexuality and identity. “This was an opportunity for people’s voices to be heard,” said Coit. His work features trans-identifying service men who are accomplished LGBTQ+ community leaders in the Twin Cities. He hopes his contribution to It’s the People will help build a stronger community. “These giant portraits are going to be on the streets and it’s going to bring people’s stories to light.”
UBS has a long history of supporting the arts as the global lead partner for Art Basel, which stages premier art shows for modern and contemporary art around the world. Their collection represents artists from more than 70 countries and is widely regarded as one of the most important of its kind.
“We are in unprecedented and challenging times,” said Glynn. “The pandemic has left many of us unsure and isolated. But art has a special way to connect us. And the portraits of these remarkable people remind us of the creativity, generosity and resiliency of our neighbors.”
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, this project will have three distinct phases of implementation including digital billboards, static billboards and large–scale banners on building sides in downtown Minneapolis. When CDC safety guidelines allow for social gatherings, the Trust will present a speaker series featuring each of the five artists, their subjects and community leaders that are relevant to each theme.
“Supporting the arts, education and cultural diversity is one of our core tenets, and we’re proud to stand in partnership with Hennepin Theatre Trust and UBS Wealth Management to support It’s the People,” said Daniel Ballard, Minneapolis Branch President of Clear Channel Outdoor. “It’s inspiring to see collaborations such as this positively affect the lives of those within our community.” Clear Channel Outdoor works to enhance shared environments by donating public service advertising displays to nonprofit and governmental organizations to drive awareness of the vibrant culture and economic vitality of downtown Minneapolis.
While the digital version of It’s the People launches today on downtown billboards, large-scale banners featuring the artwork will hang at the following locations later this year:
- 900 Hennepin (Lucas Wells)
- The Saloon, 830 Hennepin Ave. (Ryan Coit)
- The FAIR School, 10 South Tenth St. (Kristine Heykants)
- City Center, 33 South Sixth St. (Nikki McComb)
- The historic Pantages Theatre, 710 Hennepin Ave. (Chad Germann)
Participating artists include:
Ryan Coit is an international photographer exploring the human form with images that capture beauty in all types of individuals expressing their sexuality and identity.
Chad Germann is an enrolled member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Tribe of Minnesota and the Founder/CEO of Red Circle ad agency. His portrait is of a mother and daughter from Turtle Mountain displaying a defiantly regal pose of protection.
Kristine Heykants combines storytelling and art to find unearthed beauty in the familiar. She looks to the pioneering psychologist Carl Jung’s concept of archetypes to describe roles played by humans throughout history. Heykants led high school students from the FAIR School Downtown to explore identity through the lens of photography.
Nikki McComb is the Executive Director of Art is My Weapon: Creatively Addressing Violence. McComb chose her subjects because she felt strongly that violence prevention strategies, and the people on the front lines and behind the scenes, deserve recognition as silent heroes who show up every day to positively impact communities on Hennepin Avenue.
Lucas Wells is a performer driven by a love for the arts. He wanted to showcase Spotlight Education's past, present and future and chose three Asian American women highlighting their empowering inspiration with their high accomplishments and lasting impacts to the program.