Planning for the future of the Hennepin Theatre District

Joan Vorderbruggen and a guest at 5 to 10 at Hennepin embrace at a community meal

Joan Vorderbruggen and 5 to 10 at Hennepin partner Starri Hedges, Executive Director of GAIA Democratic School, embrace at a community meal

“There are countless stories to be told from [Hennepin Avenue’s] past, and so many stories that have yet to be created here. So how will Hennepin be the place where these stories are shared for the next hundred years, and who will tell them?”

Joan Vorderbruggen with part of the team that created the Bob Dylan mural at 5th Street and Hennepin Avenue

Vorderbruggen with part of the team that created the Bob Dylan mural in the Hennepin Theatre District

Those are the questions that can’t escape Joan Vorderbruggen’s mind as she kicks off the new year in the Hennepin Theatre District. Her team’s work will be funded in part thanks to a new $60,000 grant from the McKnight Foundation to support efforts to bring together for local artists, businesses and civic entities for public art projects. This grant will allow the Trust to continue building a platform to benefit other arts and community organizations, supporting their success.

And Vorderbruggen has big plans. She was recently named the Trust’s director of Hennepin Theatre District engagement and has been recruited to join the National Arts Strategies Leadership Coaching Training Program. It’s a twelve-month training designed for experienced arts and culture leaders who wish to become coaches to the next generation of changemakers. Vorderbruggen says the timing is perfect with the upcoming centennial of the Orpheum and State theatres.

“The Hennepin Theatre District is a deeply complex place in our city,” says Vorderbruggen. “It holds some of our region’s biggest triumphs and deepest regrets all the while being a place so many people simply want to be.”

Crews install a portrait banner as part of the "It's the People" public art project

Crews install a portrait as part of the “It’s the People” public art project

Vorderbruggen understands the ups and downs of the history of Hennepin Avenue, and spends a lot of time thinking about its past and future.  She’s the creative force behind murals that the Trust has created in the Theatre District, as well as the Made Here initiative that filled vacant storefronts while boosting local artists, and the current 5 to 10 on Hennepin series that activates empty spaces downtown to bring vitality to the Theatre District. She is thrilled to be on the forefront of the efforts to make sure the Theatre District —­ the stretch from Fifth to Tenth streets on Hennepin Avenue and anchored by the Trust’s Orpheum, State and Pantages theatres — remains a welcoming place for all to enjoy.

Part of that work includes soon-to-be-announced exhibits that will build on the groundwork laid by “It’s the People,” a major public art project that features nine large-scale portraits created by renowned Minnesota artists and feature the avenue’s regulars. The new exhibits are part of the year-long focus on art that celebrates the people whose experiences and stories create the unique vibrancy of Minneapolis.

Behind these exhibits and other projects in the works is the idea of developing new ways to engage artists in telling our stories, building public-private partnerships and highlighting forgotten histories. With new funding from the McKnight Foundation and her selection for the National Arts Strategies coaching program, Vorderbruggen says it’s an exciting time to be building in the community and the district, especially considering the importance of the work.

“Everything I’ve learned while developing public art and programs for Hennepin Avenue and years of research, paired with what I instinctively know to be true, is that the people I meet every day create the unique vibrancy of Hennepin. Decades, an entire century, will come and go, but Hennepin will remain as a place that carries the hearts and souls of the people who make it such.”