Bob Dylan Mural at the 15 Building

How do you turn a five-story brick wall into a jaw-dropping work of art? Simple. You invite a world-famous graffiti artist to cover it with a kaleidoscopic mural of Minnesota grown international folk icon Bob Dylan.

Downtown Minneapolis is (still) the place to be

From luxury apartments to award-winning restaurants, downtown Minneapolis—along with the neighboring North Loop district—continues to grow as a hotspot for new construction and renovation. As it grows, the area keeps attracting the attention of management companies eager to get in on the action and excitement.

Chicago-based R2 and AIMS Real Estate, for example, saw something special in a 1916 construction situated at 15 S. Fifth St. near Hennepin Avenue. When it bought the “15 Building” in 2014, the Goldman Sachs Management Unit envisioned transforming the art deco structure into a set of swanky suites for creative agencies.

The multimillion-dollar building renovation (still in progress) entails stripping back the 180,000 square foot interior one suite at a time to expose brick, concrete and natural light—exactly the kind of digs artists and professionals dream of calling their daily grind.

If you paint it, they will come

Another part that vision has been all about getting the building’s exterior to faithfully reflect the energy of creativity that fills its newly revamped spaces. The west façade of the building, a 60-foot by 150-foot brick wall, faces Hennepin Avenue, with sightlines across a parking lot all the way to Target Field.

“When we first bought the building, we said, ‘We’ve got to do something with this wall,’” recalls R2 Principal Manager Matt Garrison.

And so they did.

Garrison had some ideas about what he and his colleagues wanted the wall to become, but he knew it would be a massive undertaking. A series of connections led him to Joan Vorderbruggen, the WeDo Arts Coordinator for Hennepin Theatre Trust. It didn’t take long for the two to discover common ground.

According to Vorderbruggen, whose “Made Here” project has been bringing public art to windows throughout the city since 2013, the two went back and forth a few times with ideas for potential muralists.

Then Kuske suggested Eduardo Kobra, a Brazilian graffiti artist whose murals appear around the world in Dubai, Russia, Poland, New York, and Miami (to name a few).

Living legends meet in Minneapolis

Vorderbruggen recognized the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity immediately. “Public art has to be accessible,” she says, explaining the magic of Kobra’s ability to connect with such a wide audience. “His art is rooted in storytelling, history, and things that are culturally relevant to the area.”

The São Paulo native began as a young street artist in a low-income neighborhood, tagging with an older graffiti crew. Today, his celebrated works light up cities around the globe, and include portraits of visionaries and activists such as Malala Yousefzai, Abraham Lincoln, inventor Alfred Nobel and rap idol Tupak Shakur.

Vorderbruggen and Kuske made recommendations but Kobra ultimately selected folk icon Bob Dylan as the subject of the Goldman Sachs commission. Although local activists and other Minnesota-grown artists were considered, the folk singer ultimately won out for his broad appeal.

While Dylan’s connections to Hennepin Avenue aren’t as well known as his ties to the Dinkytown area of Minneapolis, Dylan and his brother once owned the Orpheum Theatre (today owned by the Hennepin Theatre Trust). In November 2014 the performer played a sold-out, three-night stand in the historic space.


A portrait of the artist as a young (and older) man   

Kobra’s vision for the mural takes the form of a triptych, featuring glimpses of Dylan through the years, as a young and middle-aged musician and as a wizened, worldly poet of the people. The piece also incorporates lyrics from his famous social protest anthem “The Times They Are a-Changin’.”

To capture the spirit of his subjects, Kobra uses a grid system to lay down a photo-real portrait in black and white. Next, he colorblocks the image with the help of Brazilian artist collaborators who have worked with him for 15 years.

Together, the “Kobra Studio” (Silvio Cesar Gonçalves de Almeida, Agnaldo Brito Pereira and Marcos Rafael da Silva) uses a combination of brushes, airbrushes and air compression cans to add brilliant hues and shading to the portrait.

More Minnesota connections 

For the 15 Building mural (Kobra’s largest work to date outside his home country), Minnesota artists Erin Sayer and Yuya Negishi supported Studio Kobra during the two-week artistic process. The multi-national collective used ladders and boom lifts to cover the 5-story canvas with the explosions of color and bold lines that signal Kobra’s unmistakeable style.

Sayer has painted more than 50 murals around the United States, and currently leads a grassroots effort to create a “mural mecca” along the Minneapolis Greenway. Her gallery space, Premises MPLS, recently opened.

Negishi teaches and participates in public art projects and murals throughout his adopted home of Minnesota. A native of Showa Village, Gunma, a small farming community in the mountains beyond Tokyo, Negishi draws inspiration from his memories growing up in the Japanese countryside. His work also incorporates Japanese pop culture and calligraphy.

How public art can make a real difference 

For Goldman Sachs, this substantial investment in public art has less to do with direct profit, and more to do with creating a vibe that will encourage interest in their property, and in the surrounding neighborhood.

“Normally, real estate investors want a direct return on investment,” says Garrison. “But this is more qualitative than quantitative. We’re doing it to help create a sense of community and excitement … which will give companies a competitive advantage in recruiting employees.”

“The moment people see someone investing in and caring for a neighborhood in such a visible way, they pay attention,” says Tom Hoch, President and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust.

“I look at this district and all I see is opportunity,” says Vorderbruggen. “I won’t rest until it has art and culture from local artists, emerging artists, professional artists, international artists. I want people all over the world to think, ‘We’ve got to go to Minneapolis because the city is covered in art.’”