MIMMI, the inflatable centerpiece of Secret City

MIMMI, the inflatable centerpiece of Secret City

It looks like a giant floatation toy. MIMMI, the new temporary outdoor sculpture installed in the Convention Center Plaza, is Minneapolis's latest piece of public art. It was built using a $50,000 budget, and its designers spent that entire amount on materials. The work was implemented in part by the Convention Center, who hired Northern Lights executive director Stephen Dietz, the nonprofit organization behind the Northern Spark Festival, of which, before it was moved to St. Paul-only this year, MIMMI was originally intended to be part of.

MIMMI, the inflatable centerpiece of Secret City
Photo courtesy Meet Minneapolis 

"Our plan was always to have MIMMI unveiled during Northern Spark," says Gulgun Kayim, director of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy for Minneapolis. "When we found out it wasn't going to happen in Minneapolis, we knew we needed to have a public unveiling."

The sculpture will be a central figure in the upcoming Secret City festival this Saturday, which will feature performances and events that will draw people to the Convention Center and other locations along the newly coined Hennepin Avenue cultural corridor, including Block E, the Walker Art Center, areas in and around the Basilica, and the Midtown Greenway, which is hosting its annual Greenway Glow celebration.

MIMMI, designed by Brad Cantrell, Jack Cochran, Carl Koepcke, and Allen Sayegh, floats in the air, and, after sunset, changes color based on the "mood" of the city. This is determined through an analysis of tweets from people who identify as being from Minneapolis. The large balloon also "mists" when the mood of the city is determined to be high. The designers beat out 15 other finalists through a Facebook vote in the Creative City Challenge, a new program developed by the Arts, Culture and Creative Economy office last year. 

MIMMI, the inflatable centerpiece of Secret City
Photo courtesy Meet Minneapolis 

The goals of the Creative City Challenge include showcasing the under-appreciated plaza, drawing visitors out into the city, and providing opportunities for local designers. According to the Minneapolis Creative Vitality Index report, produced by Kayim's department, jobs for architects have decreased by nearly 20 percent in the last 10 years, and nearly 10 percent in the last three years, with landscape architects similarly suffering a decline, and other design professionals not doing much better.  

The Creative City Challenge was in part modeled after the Grand Rapids Art Prize as a way to talk about the creative community and attract attention to parts of the city that have problems or are underutilized. 

Another model was Millenium Park in Chicago, which is a great tourist draw. Kayim says that Jeff Johnson, executive director of the Convention Center, approached her and said that he'd like to have something like Chicago's iconic park.  

Chicago opened Millenium Park in 2004 on 24.5 acres of land near Lake Michigan's shoreline, in the heart of downtown. The park includes the Jay Pritzker Pavillion, where visitor's can watch concerts, Crown Fountain, the Lurie Garden, and Cloud Gate, known familiarly as "The Bean," a giant reflective sculpture that became an instant icon of the city. The park draws five million people per year.

MIMMI, the inflatable centerpiece of Secret City
Photo courtesy Meet Minneapolis 

Millenium Park cost $475 million, $270 million of which came from the city budget, a seemingly impossible feat for Minneapolis. Politicians love to tout our vibrant arts scene here in Minneapolis, but are unlikely to support large projects, especially in comparison to cities such as Chicago, which spends $5 million a year for their Office of Cultural Affairs budget, according to the Minneapolis Plan for Arts and Culture

MIMMI's designers spent the entire $50,000 award on the project, deciding to not pay themselves. They also spent the honorarium given to them on expenses when they became finalists.

"It was important to us to maximize the budget, and create the biggest impact we could with what we had," says designer Jack Cochran. In order to receive some payment, the designers will be making ponchos out of the balloon's material "as a way to earn a little money on the project, thereby doubling its use and economic productivity." There's also the added benefit of fulfilling the contest requirements of creating an environmentally sustainable product. "This was an important project to us. We wanted to come back to Minneapolis after grad school and do something for our hometown. Our personal profit wasn't a major concern of ours," he says. 

MIMMI, the inflatable centerpiece of Secret City

Another aspect of Millenium Park that Kayim says the city wanted to emulate is its programming. Tourists and residents don't just visit the Millenium Park to view the Bean sculpture, but also to see music or watch an outdoor film screening. The office thus hopes to create something that would draw people in. 

Leah Nelson, who has curated all the dance, music and participation activities in the plaza during Secret City, was brought in six weeks ago. "Working with the city is its own challenge," she says, noting that there have been many successes in the preparations. "Everybody is rising to the occasion." 

In curating the event, Nelson has attempted to fulfill the Mayor's goal of creating "a sense of wonder." Some of the activities include spoken word by Nicole Smith, bike decorating, dance performances by Ragamala and Ananya Dance Theatre, and even a bike ballet, choreographed by Nelson, featuring R.T. Rybak as one of the performers.

In addition to the Secret City event, Kayim says there will be programming throughout the summer, with another Creative City Challenge starting in the fall. 

For a complete list of activities both at the plaza and at the other spaces throughout the city, see here.

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