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.’”
I was surprised at how popular the Mall of America became after it was completed in 1992. Over and over again I heard people from out-of-state say they were looking forward to visiting it when coming to Minnesota. Now, there is a second attraction that seems to be generating out-of-state buzz and even international chatter. It's the new Dylan mural in downtown Minneapolis, and having visited it this past weekend with my family I can see why. It's an impressive tribute to the legendary Minnesota-born singer-songwriter.
The mural itself is quite extraordinary, but equally noteworthy are the stories behind the mural. Marc Percansky graciously offered details about the painting of this monumental work of art, calling it one of the Twin Cities' greatest landmarks. I have no doubt it will live up to this label.
"It is already turning into a major tourist attraction," said Percansky. "I guess you could call it the world's largest Bob Dylan Mural. People that pass by it who haven't seen it before love to stop and take photos of it. To me it is very thrilling and I am fortunate that it is in my hometown!"
Shortly after it was completed friends of mine sent me stories that were in the Minneapolis papers. And in the first six months it seems there have been endless numbers of photos posted online from all over the world. But Percansky insists, "There is nothing like seeing it with your own eyes. Standing in the parking lot and looking up at it from a proper distance at all 5 stories high. It is really a mind blowing work of art!" Now that I've stood beneath it, I have to agree.
Primary credit for this achievement goes to Eduardo Kobra, who Percansky calls "the Bob Dylan of his field. No one else could have done as good of a job as him."
The more Marc and I spoke the more I learned, so I thought it would be worthwhile to share some of that here. I asked the kind of things I thought inquiring minds might want to know.
EN: Who were the artists?
Marc Percansky: Four Brazilians -- Agnaldo Brito Pereira, Cesar Almeida, Marcos Rafael and Eduardo Kobra -- and two Minnesota artists -- Erin Sayer & Yuya Negishi who moved to the Twin Cities from Japan in 2010.
EN: How long did it take to complete?
MP: Painting began on August 26th and was completed on September 8th, 2015. Kobra's whole concept was already planned in Brazil before he came over. Then he mapped out a strategy 20 days before they started to get the job done on time. It then took 12 days with around 12 hours a day to finish it. Joan was the onsite coordinator and made sure the artists had everything they needed while they worked. They would often have their lunch meals prepared right there. They were very hard working guys. The weather was very cooperative during that time. I only recall one rainy morning towards the end that held things up just a bit. On the last day Eduardo finished his signature just above the Brazilian Flag. He then gave it a thumb's up to the crowd and then later that day left town with his studio crew to do another mural.
EN: How much did it cost?
MP: About $50,000.00
EN: How long did they plan it before tackling the actual assignment?
MP: Goldman Sachs, which co-owns The 15 Building at 15 South 5th Street, hired the Hennepin Theatre Trust to manage the project, which was launched in November of 2014. The huge white wall on the west facade was the perfect location for this mural. It is right in the heart of downtown Minneapolis.
EN: What approvals were needed?
MP: To my knowledge, only city approvals were needed.
Marc created two pages to catalog the articles and other details about the project here at his Magic Marc Productions website. This is the link to the second page.
Here are some other links Marc sent last night:
Eduardo Kobra's Website: http://eduardokobra.com/
Hennepin Theatre Trust's Website: http://www.hennepintheatretrust.org/
Made Here's Website: http://www.madeheremn.org/
What a difference a little color makes on a drab day in the city.
While walking past a magazine stand this week I saw a headline in one of the publications that read, "Top Ten Stories of 2016." Naturally it made me curious about the stories on my own blog here, so Tuesday night during NBC's Tony Bennett Tribute Concert I reviewed the data on all my 2016 blog stories and identified the Top Ten in terms of generating engagement and visitors.
I then decided that I should share them David Letterman style, from least to best. That Dylan blog posts have been my most consistent performers does not surprise me. I've had a front row seat to a lot of Dylan-themed activity here in Duluth these past many years. Rather, what surprised me was the strength of two local stories that nearly eclipsed all of the Dylan stories and blog posts. I love surprises like this.
One other consequence of this exercise. It now makes me curious about the top posts of previous years. What year did my Dylan posts surpass everything else? And what other stories have shaken things up and around a bit over the years?
Here, then, are the top blog posts of 2016 at Ennyman's Territory...
10. Bob Dylan: Content Marketing King
9. Something Is Happening Here, Do You Know What It Is, Dylan Fans?
8. Weighing In On Bootleg #12: The Cutting Edge
7. Handwritten Lyrics to Dylan's Desolation Row: Sneak Preview of the May William Pagel Exhibit at Karpeles
6. Official Dylan Fest Poster And Schedule Now Published
5. Love Minus Zero/No Limit Is A Beautiful Equation
4. The Law of Unintended Consequences as Illustrated by the Story of U.S. Steel in Duluth
3. Hibbing Project Gathering Momentum
2. Karen McTavish: Pushing the Boundaries of Quilting
And this year's #1 Story:
1. Dylan Mural Makes Monumental Impact In Minneapolis
If you're in the neighborhood of Hennepin and 6th, here's a great photo op for Dylan fans and friends.
Meantime, life goes on... Make the most of it.