The Writing on the Wall

Divining the future of a city one mural at a time



Marilyn Lindstrom and others

Michael Dvorak


Neighborhood Safe Art Park

12th Avenue South and East Lake Street

Minneapolis * 1992


"We worked on this mural during a violent time in the neighborhood," says Marilyn Lindstrom. Murder and other violent crime were on the rise in the summer of 1991, and police were out in force day and night. Kids on their way to the mural workshop were routinely patted down and questioned. "They'd be terrified by the time they got here," Lindstrom remembers. "We all had to work through this fear of harassment."

The artists were helped along by several serendipitous moments of inspiration. As they worked on the mural that summer, Lindstrom and her youth helpers planted seven trees, including a smallish fruit tree no one held out much hope for. Yet, in defiance of expectations, the tree began to blossom in August. There was snow on the ground for the mural's dedication, and the tree was still in bloom.

Starting with the act of reclaiming the side of a building from anonymity, murals are filled with unlikely occurrences. While Lindstrom and young volunteer Adrian Garza were joking around, the boy stopped and noted seriously, "You know, I never thought I'd have an old white lady for a friend."


Jimmy Longoria


Connections to Work

810 E. Franklin Ave.

Minneapolis * 1998


Not all murals are single-mindedly determined to uplift the community. Cultural legacies can be consciously creepy as well. Here is a woman sculpted out of scattered waves of gray paint, her shape spinning violently out of the formlessness of the squiggly, indistinct natural world that surrounds her. As you look more closely, you see her children cowering beneath her arms--in fear of those elements, perhaps, or of their mother, who seems elemental herself.

That woman is La Llorna, and the painting is based on a longstanding legend that Mexican mothers still use to frighten their children into obedience. There are many popular versions of this tale, but the most popular relates that La Llorna was a Mexican beauty who longed for a handsome husband. She got her wish, but he abandoned her and her children. In a Medea-like moment of passionate despair, she drowned her infants.

Now, the legend goes, the wind you hear wail late at night is the voice of La Llorna, crying out for new children to replace her own. "You had better be good," mothers warn their bratty brood, "or La Llorna will snatch you away." And you thought the Chicago-Franklin area could be a scary enough place on its own.

Rigel Sauri


Me Gusta Carnicería

405 E. Lake St.

Minneapolis * 199x


In contrast to the busy, urban bent found in graffiti murals, many of the Latino murals in south Minneapolis have a consciously nostalgic flavor. It's hard not to consider these panels as a window into the conflicted emotions of the immigrants who live, work, and shop along these thoroughfares.

One of the most pleasant examples of Mexican-style murals in Minneapolis stretches along the second floor of the Me Gusta meat store. It depicts an idealized Mexican village: men in sombreros, women shopping choosily for meats, neighbors chatting or just exchanging greetings. In other words, somewhere and sometime else--an imagined moment that found public, commercial, and family life in closer harmony.

The corner of Fourth and Lake hasn't achieved that sort of utopia. In fact, you could say that this block is the site of an aesthetic battle between those storeowners and neighbors intent on creating a colorful village atmosphere and the bleak, utilitarian brick walls that stretch along the north side of Lake Street. The battle is a quiet one, of course--hardly even evident to the average driver waiting at a stoplight. But the murals stand in judgment of the blank walls: "Why aren't you doing your part to make this block a neighborhood?"



John Acosta, Richard Schletty, Armando Gutierrez


344 S. Robert St.

St. Paul * 1985


Tucked away in its own corner of the metropolis, West St. Paul is, in many ways, a world unto itself. It's a neighborhood you aren't likely to stumble across--a place where a green left-turn arrow doesn't necessarily mean you have the right of way. (When turning left from Concord to State at the five-way intersection at the heart of this district, you've got to yield to traffic from George Street--regardless of what it says in your drivers-ed manual.) And it's a spot whose Latino heritage has been nurtured and revitalized, causing the core to be renamed District del Sol.

Under the purview of the Riverview Economic Development Association, residents and businesses are deliberately cultivating the aesthetic of the neighborhood. Several murals from the Seventies have been repainted. Several others, now badly faded, are being painted over. In the future, REDA intends to place works on those walls that promise maximum longevity for public art.

One of the most striking of the images that remains is a black, white, and gray mural that adorns a food bank just south of the river. Where most murals attempt to dazzle with bright splashes of primaries and pastels, Hunger Has No Color takes its title literally. "All of us had training in classical realism," explains painter John Acosta. "We wanted to stay in the tradition of the old masters--pictures of our wives and children and some people who actually work for the food bank." Stark but not grim, the piece has a gritty, photographic feel that is uncommon to the more florid murals of West St. Paul.

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