BEST LOCAL ARTIST (1999)
There are many good artists and many good people, but only one who tops our list in both categories. After decades of quietly beautifying the Twin Cities with public murals that look like splashes of living color on the dreary concrete shells of parking ramps and office buildings, St. Paul painter Ta-coumba Aiken is enjoying some much-deserved attention. His vibrant mosaic style of "rhythm patterns" and "spirit writing" is featured in a national ad for Absolut Vodka, he has been commissioned to design murals for the Science Museum, and he recently served as curator for the Diaspora exhibit of Indian and African-American art. Even more important than what Aiken has received, however, is what he's given to the local scene. As an organizer of the annual Lowertown Art Crawl, a mentor for young artists, and a leader of painting workshops for neighborhood kids, Aiken has helped to turn St. Paul's cultural dead zone into a community.