Arts activation brings energy, empathy and inclusion to Hennepin Avenue

5 to 10 on Hennepin series ends the season focused on abundance

Image by Scott Streble

Arriving at a 5 to 10 on Hennepin event feels like a celebration.

Food, face painting, games and gifts greet visitors as they enter the space. Live performers entertain the crowd, dancing, rapping, singing and beatboxing energetically around the stage. It’s similar to neighborhood gatherings that happen in many communities around the Twin Cities. But the conversations and connections at this event have a deeper meaning.

5 to 10 on Hennepin is a summertime event series put on monthly by the Hennepin Theatre Trust, which uses art to activate the neighborhood along Hennepin Avenue between Fifth and Tenth Streets. The activities and entertainment help create a safe, welcoming environment for everyone who spends time on Hennepin Avenue.

“Our lobby starts at Hennepin Avenue so the health of Hennepin is a big priority for us,” said Joan Vorderbruggen, director of public art and placemaking at Hennepin Theatre Trust. “We want to be an asset to the neighborhood and that includes bringing an understanding and appreciation of a demographic that is often invisible.”

That demographic includes a large number of individuals who are living in poverty, experiencing homelessness or having difficulty with basic needs 5 to 10 reaches out to this population through art, food, and partnerships with organizations offering services ranging from health check-ups to housing.

“This is about more than art,” says VJ Smith, president and CEO of Men Against Destruction-Defending Against Drugs and Social-Disorder (MAD DADS), an organization that partners with Hennepin Theatre Trust for the events. “We touch people. The least, the last and the lost need someone around to embrace them, to give them shelter and food but also to let them know there is a community that cares about them.”

Hennepin Theatre Trust launched 5 to 10 on Hennepin three years ago, recognizing the need to activate the neighborhood to address concerns about crime rates in the downtown arts district. As the largest landowner along the downtown stretch of Hennepin, including the historic Orpheum, State and Pantages Theatres, Hennepin Theatre Trust feels a responsibility to build and strengthen the community.

The outdoor events are held near the light rail stop, which encourages walk up traffic and a broader mix of ages and backgrounds. Even the final event, held in October and forced inside by cold weather to the Salvation Army Harbor Light Center Chapel, drew a diverse group of young people, adults and senior citizens, all looking for a place to feel secure and maybe even inspired.

Charlie Ruffin has spent the last six months as an intern with Hennepin Theatre Trust, helping plan and execute the 5 to 10 events. He first got involved a year ago as a performer with Kulture Klub, a nonprofit that works with young people to help them explore art and coaches them on becoming artists and performers.

Ruffin has a firsthand understanding of the difference these events can make in people’s lives. He says 5 to 10 on Hennepin helped him get off the streets and find an apartment. He is training to be a chef and he hopes to serve as a role model for others facing challenges of their own.

Image by Scott Streble

“Art is a way to get out emotions,” said Ruffin. “Some people can’t express themselves so they go to anger or conflict or depression. Here they feel more comfortable. They can be around people who understand. They see people their age who are doing things, trying to share and make a difference. They start to think maybe they can do it too.”

The Kulture Klub performers plan entertainment for 5 to 10 on Hennepin events, which serve a dual role for the organization: they provide young artists valuable performance experience and allow them to help others.

“Art is a basic need,” said Crystal Brinkman, executive director of Kulture Klub. “If you’re living on Hennepin Avenue why would you work hard to make a change if you’re not inspired in some way to do so.”

Crowds at 5 to 10 on Hennepin can access support through a variety of community organizations who are on hand to pass out information as well as necessities like toothbrushes, floss and water bottles. One group that supports these events but is noticeably absent is the Minneapolis Police Department. Organizers say they want to create a safe and comfortable place for everyone, without being watched by law enforcement. Instead, MAD DADS takes responsibility for ensuring safety.

“Police are not necessary when you have connections,” said Smith. “The police can be out preventing crimes and we can make it safe in here.”

Other organizations that support 5 to 10 on Hennepin include Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District and the Carolyn Foundation.

At the final event of 2018, the theme was “abundance” and the attendees were treated to a hot meal catered by Dilla’s Ethiopian Restaurant.

Image by Scott Streble

“How do you like that food?” asked Smith to a man walking by whose plate was piled high.

“I’ve never had anything like it before,” said the man with a smile. “It’s really good!”

While 5 to 10 on Hennepin only takes place once a month during the summer, the organizers say it has a lasting effect.

“The children that come to the events tell us that knowing there is another one coming up for them to look forward to keeps them going, keeps them alive,” said Vorderbruggen. “They know they are important to us and that we are committed to them.”